National governments have two years to implement the Directive’s minimum standards into national legislation. This is an ideal opportunity for ambitious Member States to go further and design a waste policy that fully respects the environment.

The European Council adopted the directive Tuesday morning, which is the final step in the procedure. The directive is expected to be published in the official journal before summer. This will start the two years’ time frame for the national governments to implement these new rules into their national legislation.


An opportunity for frontrunners

As an environmental NGO, Recycling Netwerk Benelux asks the national governments to rapidly implement the European legislation into national laws, and to go beyond the minimum legal requirements further and move further away from single-use items, made both of plastic and other materials “Europe has taken this first step in the battle against single-use plastics. All eyes now turn to the national governments to implement this in their national laws.The plastic waste on land and in our seas has degenerated into an acute emergency and requires quick and decisive action. National governments can and should move faster than the European deadlines. This can help them in many domains: a cleaner environment, less clean-up costs for their taxpayers, and an advance in the circular economy”, Recycling Netwerk says.

The European NGO Zero Waste Europe has published a guide for governments to transpose the directive. “We strongly recommend the national and regional government to follow this path”, Recycling Netwerk says.


What’s in the Directive?

The directive is well known for its ban on a range of single-use plastic items. But equally important articles are those that require 90% separate collection of plastic bottles in the near future, and articles that rightfully charge the bill of the clean-up costs where it belongs: the producers of plastic.

Producers will have to pay the clean-up costs of litter

Producers of certain single-use items containing plastic, such as cigarette butts, balloons, specific food containers and drink containers, will have to pay the clean-up costs of litter, says article 8 of the directive. This measure will apply to packaging and cigarette butts from January 2023. It will come into effect for wipes and balloons at the end of 2024. This is a good measure, says environmental NGO Recycling Netwerk Benelux, as it will push companies to seriously improve prevention and support the implementation of effective collection systems. It is also fairer than the current situation, where local authorities, and thus taxpayers, pay the bill for the clean-up costs of litter.

90% separate collection of plastic bottles

The European Member States will have to separately collect 90% of plastic bottles from 2029 onwards. This is a very effective target to keep plastic bottles out of our nature and seas.

Practically speaking, setting the target on 90% collection implies the implementation of deposit-return systems. Deposit-return systems have proven their effectiveness in Norway and Germany. Earlier this month, Scotland decided to introduce the deposit-return system.

In the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium, the debate is ongoing but the decision to introduce it on all plastic bottles has not yet been put into firm legislation.

The Directive also states that all new plastic bottles have to contain a minimum of 30% recycled content in the year 2030. This decision will boost the market demand for recycled material and fire up the circular economy of plastics.

Ban on some single-use plastic products

The following single-use plastics will be banned by 2021: straws, cotton buds, drink stirrers, cutlery and plates, beverage cups and food and beverage containers made from expanded polystyrene, and the so-called oxo-degradable plastics. These items are found very often on beaches and alternatives are readily available. It is a good thing that Europe has made a start in banning some single-use plastic products for which other alternatives are available instead of letting them continue to pollute our environment.

Consumption reduction

For certain food packaging containing plastic, like the single-use beverage cups at Starbucks and the fast-food containers at McDonalds, Member States are obliged to realise a consumption reduction. This means that those companies will have to make a switch to alternative materials and reusable packaging.

Related articles: The Guardian, European parliament votes to ban single-use plastics, 28/03/2019