EU agrees deal to cut single-use plastics –Standardisation to follow

On 19 December, after several months of inter-institutional negotiations, the EU agreed on the much-anticipated Directive on single-use plastics in Europe. The law targets plastic items that are placed on the market with no intention of being reused, including bio-based and/or biodegradable plastics.

The text has already been rubberstamped by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and the ENVI Committee of the European Parliament. The European Council and EP Plenary are expected to give their green light in March, after which the directive will be published in the Official Journal of the EU.

The text is a significant step forward in tackling plastic pollution but does not fully address the urgency of the plastics crisis, according to ECOS and the Rethink Plastic Alliance.

The directive contains several types of measures targeting various single-use plastic items, such as:

  • Bans on plates, straws, cutlery and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups, as well as the so-called oxo-degradable plastic products;
  • Consumption reduction objectives for food containers and cups through measures to be decided by Member States;
  • Extended Producer Responsibility schemes and payment of clean-up costs of littered plastic items such as cigarette buds, wrappers and sachets, lightweight carrier plastic bags and fishing gear;
  • A collection target for beverage bottles of 90% by 2029 and the introduction of a 30% recycled content objective for all bottles by 2030
  • Marking of some products regarding their plastic content and resulting environmental impacts such as in cigarette filters, sanitary pads and wet wipes

The directive also contains two product requirements to be specified through harmonised European standards. This covers design requirements for:

  • Tethered caps: future standards will need to ensure caps and lids remain attached to the container during the product’s intended use phase. A standardisation request from the European Commission is expected 3 months after the entry into force of the directive, meaning by the end of 2019. This measure will be applicable as from 2024.
  • Fishing gear containing plastic: harmonised European standards are to be developed to ensure the circular design of fishing gear to encourage preparation for re-use and recyclability at end-of-life. No date for the standardisation request is mentioned in the directive but ECOS will push for it to be issued together with the standardisation request on tethered caps.

ECOS will monitor these future developments very closely and will actively engage in the standardisation process.