EU rules on single-use plastics lack harmonized approach, cautions packaging association
On March 27, 2019, the European Parliament adopted the European Commission’s new rules on single-use plastics. The Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive is designed to reduce marine litter through a mix of outright bans, incentives to reduce consumption, the establishment of ambitious plastic-bottle collection goals and extended producer responsibility schemes. The measures are a step toward a larger vision that will require all plastic packaging placed on the EU market to be reusable or recyclable by 2030. The European Organization for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN; Brussels) notes in a press release that it supports the overarching objectives but has concerns about consistent implementation of the directive across the European Union. It also urges policymakers to be mindful of existing and forthcoming EU laws involving packaging and packaging waste that may overlap.
EUROPEN notes in its press release the absence of a harmonized approach in the SUP Directive, which, it says, presents a serious risk for the internal market. “For instance, it will allow member states to adopt unilateral bans on specific packaging applications to reduce consumption of certain items that remain poorly defined in legislation,” writes EUROPEN. The organization calls on EU policymakers to develop evidence-based guidance on the unclear terms without delay. It also calls on the European Commission and member states to ensure that all national, regional and local measures to implement the SUP are notified to the Commission in accordance with the directive.
While it has been a supporter of extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes as an essential component of waste management in Europe, EUROPEN points out that EPR is dealt with in two legislative texts, the single-use plastics directive and the revised Waste Framework Directive. This has resulted in a “lack of policy coherence,” writes EUROPEN. “It is now essential that the Commission develops EU-wide guidance for clarifying and delineating the allocation of litter clean-up costs in order to ensure a harmonized, proportionate and transparent implementation of the measure in member states.”
Calling the SUP Directive process “unprecedentedly rushed,” Hans van Bochove of Coca-Cola European Partners and EUROPEN Chairman stressed that the “packaging value chain is committed to innovating for sustainability. This will require investments at scale. For this to happen, business needs clarity on the applicable rules and a coherent, long-term and stable EU policy framework. One single EU Circular Economy is preferable to 28 or 27 different ones,” said Van Bochove.
The next step for the directive is formal adoption by the Council of Ministers followed by its publication in the Official Journal. Member states will then have two years to transpose the legislation into national law.