Are EU countries really phasing out single-use plastics?


Countries must walk the talk and adopt effective measures to reduce the use of plastic in Europe 

In June 2019, the European Union adopted a pioneering legislation to curb plastic pollution: the Single Use Plastics Directive. It was the first EU Directive requiring Member States to ban a series of plastics – certain single use plastic items and oxo degradable plastics, for which alternatives were considered to be easily available and affordable. For non-banned products, the focus is on waste prevention measures, such as consumption reduction, marking requirement and product design requirements and on improved waste management. 

This Directive was praised by citizens across Europe, who want to see more action taken to swiftly address plastic pollution and support sustainable products and packaging. Governments have committed to tackle plastic pollution, but many still have to walk the talk and actually adopt and implement effective measures to move away from single-use plastics. 

As of July 2021, EU countries were expected to have banned several single-use plastic items, labelled certain single-use plastics remaining on the market and started annual awareness raising campaigns. They should also achieve a measurable quantitative reduction in the consumption of single-use plastic cups and food containers by 2026 compared to 2022 and set up extended producer responsibility schemes, as of 2023 for tobacco products and 2024 for other single-use plastic categories.

Rethink Plastic, part of the Break Free From Plastic movement is an alliance of European NGOs including Surfrider Foundation Europe, working towards a future free from plastic pollution. For the second time, a report has been prepared by Surfrider Europe together with Seas at Risk and Zero Waste Europe to track the performance of EU countries in adopting measures to phase out single-use plastic. 

Expectations VS Reality: Ambition of the measures adopted by EU countries to reduce the use of plastic

The report of 2022 reveals that important progress has been made by the majority of EU countries, but significant steps are still expected from national authorities in terms of policy ambition as well as legislative enforcement. In light of the findings, European NGOs call on national governments and the European Commission to play their key role to curb once and for all plastic pollution coming from disposable items. 

Top performers in 2021 (Greece, France, Sweden and Ireland) were joined in 2022 by Luxembourg, Cyprus, Slovenia, Latvia, Denmark and Portugal. Some of these countries even showed higher ambitions than what was required by the EU Directive, notably on the measures to achieve consumption reduction. Meanwhile only a couple of laggards (Finland and Poland) remain, with a few Member States still not showing sufficient ambition or being very late (Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and Czech Republic) or overlooking some of the key measures, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Estonia, Romania, Hungary or Belgium. In this landscape, some countries stand out for having breached the Directive in their transposition, such as Italy, which exempted biodegradable plastics from some of its measures. 

More efforts are needed on the enforcement of adopted bans concerning plastic in the EU 

Across all Member States, the report shows more efforts are needed on the enforcement of adopted bans, as banned items are still found on the market as a result of greenwashing strategies and stocks being sold off. On consumption reduction, it remains unclear how some countries will achieve this ambitious objective without setting targets, while countries that are investing in and promoting reuse options are those showing most potential for success. Surprisingly, the report also finds that most EU countries did not set national awareness raising strategies and left it to plastic and packaging manufactures to achieve awareness objectives. On Extended Producer responsibility, most countries are still a long way from complying with their obligations in time for 2023 and 2024 deadlines. 

Delays may have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this cannot justify continued inaction from governments. The transition to products, business models and systems based on waste prevention and reuse can contribute to building resilient and vibrant local economies and jobs, achieving a toxic-free circular economy and protecting health, our Ocean and the planet.

9 recommendations for EU Countries to phase out Single-Use Plastic

Here are some recommendations from the report for governments in EU countries to act fast, now to phase out single-use palstic :

    1. Ensure full implementation and enforcement of EU-wide bans and extend bans to other single-use plastic items;

    2. Take measures to ensure that banned items are replaced with reusable alternatives;

    3. Set ambitious quantative targets for other items in additon to food and beverage containers to achieve consumption reduction and promote reuse;

    4. Set as soon as possible, EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) schemes that are fully binding, include strong eco-modulation of fees and cover at least the full costs of collection, treatment, management, clean up and awareness-raising;

    5. Set minimum recycled content targets of at least 50% for bottles and at least 30% for other items;

    6. Increase the performance of existing schemes that:

            - reach 90% separate collection of bottles as soon as possible;

            - include plastic bottles, beverage cans and glass bottles;

            - can be used for both single-use and refillable bottles.

    7. Fully implement and enforce the Directive marking requirements;

    8. Put in place awareness-raising measures focused on consumption reduction, environmental and health impacts of single-use plastics and available reusable alternatives;

    9. Ensure thorough data collection and monitoring, together with strong enforcement, to assess and/or adjust measures to improve effectiveness.

Read the report

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