Moving on from single use plastics: how are EU countries doing?


On July 3rd 2021, single use plastic straws, cutlery and plates, cotton-swabs and stirrers, among others, will be banned in the EU. In the transposition of the Single Use Plastics Directive, some countries are leading the way and have gone beyond the requirements set in the Directive while others are lagging behind. The Rethink Plastic alliance, of which Surfrider Europe is a founding member, releases a new report on good and bad performing countries at transposing the EU Directive on Single Use Plastics 

Single use plastics, a major threat to the Ocean and to our health 

Globally, it is estimated that between 15 and 51 billion plastic particles, representing around 250,000 tonnes of plastic, are floating on the surface of the ocean. Without change, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and more plastic than fish by 2050.  

Single-use plastics, i.e. plastics designed to be used only once and discarded after a very short period of use, account for the vast majority of plastic waste found on Europe's coasts and in the sea. The 10 most frequently found items alone account for 86% of all single-use plastics found on European beaches.   

These single-use plastics are a threat to aquatic life. They will eventually break down over time into micro-particles under the effect of waves, currents and ultra-violet light. Once in the environment and the ocean, they can be ingested by species and enter the food chain, potentially impacting human health.  

A landmark legislation adopted in 2019 

In 2019, the EU adopted a landmark legislation to curb single use plastic pollution: the Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment also referred to as Single-Use Plastics Directive. The Directive aims to prevent and reduce the impact on the environment of the most commonly found single use plastics and to promote a transition to a circular economy 

The Directive requires EU countries to take measures to reduce the consumption and use of a series of single-use plastics at EU level, including via an EU-wide ban on single-use plastic products whenever alternatives are available. 

A day to remember in the fight against plastic pollution | Surfrider Foundation Europe 

Overview of measures across Europe: too many States are still lacking ambition 

Surfrider Europe, together with Seas at Risk and Zero Waste Europe, issued on July 1st their assessment of policy measures adopted by EU countries to phase out single-use plastic, on behalf of the Rethink Plastic alliance and the Break Free From Plastic movement. 

In the report, the authors assessed the performance of all EU Member States in transposing the Single-Use Plastics Directive into their national law, highlighting for each positive developments, missing measures, main issues and informing on the national process. The report is published two days before the end of the transposition period for the SUP Directive in order to highlight the delays in a large number of European states. 

This Assessment report differentiates between top performers (highlighted in green) and Member States lagging behind (in orange and red) in implementing the mandatory EU measures to curb plastic pollution. 

Estonia, France, Greece, and Sweden are examples of countries on a strong track for the implementation of the Directive, while Bulgaria and Poland are just some of many Member States which need to urgently scale up their efforts. 

Read the report

Surfrider Europe together with the whole Rethink Plastic alliance members calls on Member States to respect their commitments at EU level and to go further than the Directive in order to address the plastic pollution crisis we face. While the level of ambition varies significantly across EU Member States, it remains overall insufficient to ensure Europe actually moves away from single-use plastics which contribute greatly to the unprecedented plastic pollution of our ocean. 

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