The European Parliament gives strong support to the Single-Use Plastics Directive. 560 MEPs voted in favour, 35 against and 28 abstained in the plenary session on Wednesday the 27th of March. The Directive bans a range of single-use plastic items, requires 90% separate collection of plastic bottles in the near future, and rightfully lays the bill of the cleaning-up costs where it belongs: the producers of plastic.

The European Commission took the initiative for the Directive. On October 24th, an impressive 91.5% of the Parliament backed the ambition to curb the ocean pollution. In December the Commission, Council and Parliament agreed on the terms of the Directive.

The Directive is a welcome first step in the fight against plastic pollution.

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. This is a very effective target to keep plastic bottles out of our nature and seas. Practically speaking, this rate of collection implies the implementation of deposit-return systems. Deposit-return systems have proven their effectiveness in Norway and Germany. Until now, countries like the Netherlands and Belgium were still reluctant regarding deposit-return systems. 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.

Who takes the lead?

These European targets are minimum requirements for the European Member States. It will be interesting to see which countries will take the lead in adopting them, as this circular economy on plastics implies a fair share of new business opportunities.

Follow the debate

Watch the plenary session of the European Parliament live on Wednesday 27/03 at 15h00:

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