Single-use plastics directive implemented in EU

Policies underpinned by the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) were applied on 3 July 2021.

The SUPD was approved in May 2019, with the legislative objective of reducing marine plastic pollution. The directive will act to tackle this issue via a phasing out of unnecessary plastic use, employing economic incentives to reduce consumption and increase collection rates, and all EU member states must now comply with the measures.

The scope of products and materials covered by the directive was based on littered items commonly found in marine and coastal environments and includes tobacco filters, plastic straws, paper-based products with plastic linings and bio-based plastics.

The various in-scope products sit under a range of measures that includes market restrictions (in other words bans) placed on products such as cotton-bud sticks, single use plastic cutlery and expanded polystyrene takeaway food containers.

Other aspects of the SUPD includes targets for separate plastic recycling collections, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) obligations and awareness raising measures.

Urgent to redesign both products and distribution systems

Whereas the bans came into force in July and member states must start implemented EPR schemes in 2021, targets such as the mandate for 25% recycled content in all PET plastic bottles must be achieved by 2030 and caps must be attached to bottles for its lifetime by 2024.

Consumption and Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe, Larissa Copello, has said of the directive “half-hearted measures, such as material substitution or cosmetic legislative change, will not allow to achieve a truly circular economy across Europe."

"It is urgent to redesign both products and distribution systems, and decision-makers can drive this systemic change by adopting a combination of measures such as consumption reduction targets, reuse quotas, harmonised packaging formats and deposit return schemes.”

What does this mean for UK producers?

Whilst the SUPD does not cover the UK itself, it does impact UK producers exporting to the EU. Northern Ireland must also bring parts of the Directive into its own laws by 1 January 2022.

The Protocol states that only parts of the Directive required to allow the proper functioning and movement of goods movements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as a member state must be implemented.

Essentially this means producers of, for example, wet wipes selling to Northern Ireland will have to abide by Article 10, which stipulates new labelling requirements for certain single-use items.

The rest of the UK will not have to implement the SUPD. The UK already banned plastic straws, cotton-buds and stirrers in October 2020, and will extend the plastic carrier bag charge. This is alongside other measures such as the plastic packaging tax and reforms to the packaging producer responsibility system including EPR measures and the planned Deposit Return Scheme.

It remains to be seen whether the UK will elect to go further, and legislate ‘market disruptor’ policies such as the SUPD. 

If you have questions about Extended Producer Responsibility or international compliance, please contact our team.

Louisa Goodfellow

Policy Manager

As Policy advisor Louisa provides key support to our team, including preparing reports on environmental policy issues and maintaining awareness of new developments. As such she will often be found coordinating responses to policy consultations, advocating policy positions and providing internal guidance to current legislation.

Written by Louisa Goodfellow Published 09/07/2021 Topics Compliance
Get in touch