Update on the EU’s plastic ban

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Ban on single use plastics

The ban on single use plastics came into effect on July 3, 2021, across all EU member states and the EU continues to lead the agenda on reducing problematic plastic waste. We consider the rules and what the alternatives are.

Every year, Europeans generate 25 million tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30 percent is collected for recycling. This is a major problem for our goals of a circular economy and waste – and it’s also a disaster for marine life; more than 80 percent of marine litter is plastic.

In a bid to do something to address the problem, the EU has brought in a ban on single-use plastics across all member states.

What does the plastics ban involve?

In 2019, the EU voted to ban single-use plastics. At the time, the Guardian reported that the wide range of measures included:

  • EU member states will have to introduce measures to reduce the use of plastic food containers and plastic lids for hot drinks.
  • The list of banned items includes plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, and sticks for balloons.
  • Cups and food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and all products made of oxo-degradable plastic are also banned.
  • By 2025, plastic bottles should be made of 25% recycled content.
  • By 2029, 90% of plastic bottles should be recycled.
  • Wet wipes, sanitary towels, tobacco filters and cups must be labelled if they are made with plastic, in a bid to prevent sewers being clogged by “fatbergs”. Packaging will warn consumers of environmental damage they do by disposing of these items incorrectly.
  • The “polluter pays” principle will be extended to manufacturers of fishing nets so that companies – but not fishing crews – pay the cost of nets lost at sea.

How is Europe implementing the plastics ban?

The EU is setting the policy agenda in terms of reducing plastic waste.

Some EU member states are going further and faster than others. France, for example, has banned plastic packaging on most fruit and vegetables. The law came into effect from January 1, 2022. Thirty varieties of fruit and vegetables are banned from being wrapped in plastic, including cucumbers, lemons and oranges. Larger packs as well as chopped or processed fruit will be exempt. President Emmanuel Macron said the ban demonstrated France’s commitment to phase out single-use plastics completely by 2040.

While the 27 European Union member states have banned single-use plastic items like straws and cups, this isn’t the case in non-member Switzerland, where retailers and restaurants are free to take their own approach. Meanwhile, the UK Government’s proposed restrictions for England are similar to the EU’s, but not linked explicitly.

What can consumers do?

Full details of the prohibited products and the scope of the ban can be found in one of our earlier posts we wrote about.

We’ve also written extensively on the simple swaps that you can make to reduce your use of plastics. Paper is often a very good substitute. When it comes to plastic drinking straws, for example, paper is the obvious solution! But there are other simple swaps that can help you reduce your use of plastics too. For example, take a look at our blog about more sustainable school supplies or read up about how to have a more sustainable Christmas.

Industry is also playing its part. For example, the food industry is exploring many innovative ways to reduce plastic – from edible packaging to paper bottles!

These innovations are fantastic, but we can all remember the simple prioritisation of action:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

And one final check: if you are ditching the plastic for paper, check that the paper products you switch to are made from FSC-certified sources and companies that are committed to sustainable forest management.

Navigator paper is a company known for its sustainable products. It sells one particular type of paper known for using “fewer natural resources whilst guaranteeing a premium quality performance”. Besides, Navigator is also the propellent of gKraft paper, a fabric used to substitute plastic packages.  

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