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EU to ban plastic cutlery and straws, limit takeaway food and drink containers

This article is powered by EU Food Law

The European Commission is planning to propose an EU-wide ban on plastic cutlery and straws as well as limits on takeaway food and drink containers according to a leaked draft directive.

The leaked draft seen by IEG Policy will be a back up measure to existing waste management targets notably to have 50% of plastic packaging recycled by the end of 2025 and 55% by end 2030.  Also, the EU is already aiming to make all plastics put on the market recyclable by 2030, albeit with a get out for food safety or other health-related reasons.

The draft proposal mainly aims to curb marine litter that ends up in the oceans and washed up on beaches by targeting the single-use plastic items most commonly-found on the shore.  The products covered in the draft represent 86% of the items found on beaches during clean ups.

The recitals, which introduce the articles laying down the law and explain the reasoning behind the proposal, kick off by noting: “The relatively high functionality and low cost of plastic means that this material is increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life. Its growing use in short-lived applications, which are not, designed for re-use or cost-effective recycling means that related production and consumption patterns have become increasingly inefficient and linear.”

The recital goes on to explain that the Commission concluded that “growing plastic waste generation and its leakage into our environment, in particular the marine environment, must be tackled in order to achieve a truly circular lifecycle for plastics.”

The proposal only covers single-use plastics not materials that can be refilled, recycled or otherwise reused.  However, it recognises that not all single-use plastics can be replaced easily so places them in three groups with an outright ban only applying to those listed in Part B of an annex, which in the food contacts area covers: “Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks), plates, straws, except for straws intended and used for medical purposes, and beverage stirrers.”

Part A lists items that should be covered by national prevention measures to be introduced within six years of the directive taking effect and could include consumption reduction targets or charges on use, like the well-established plastic bag levies already used in many countries. 

All the products listed on Part A are food contact materials and are:

  • Food containers, i.e. receptacles such as boxes, with or without a cover, used to contain food that is ready for immediate consumption from the receptacle either on-the-spot or take-away without any further preparation. This shall include for instance food containers used for fast food. This shall not include cups for beverages, beverage containers, plates, packets and wrappers containing food; and,
  • Cups for beverages.

Part D products must be labelled with “a conspicuous, clearly legible and indelible marking informing consumers of the negative environmental impacts of littering and other inappropriate disposal of waste of those single-use plastic products, including information, where appropriate, about the presence of plastics in those products.”  The only listed item that might be used in the food sector is a pre-wetted wipe.

Producers to pay

Part C of the annex, lists all the products subject to extended producer responsibility, meaning that their manufacturers have to cover collection and disposal costs as well as consumer education to raise awareness about marine litter. 

The draft says that “producers of single-use plastic products listed in part C of the Annex shall cover the costs of collection of waste from those single-use plastic products and its subsequent transport and treatment, including the costs to clean up marine litter and the costs of the awareness raising measures.”

Member states can either require manufacturers set up their own collection systems or introduce deposit and return schemes.

By 2025, member states would have to comply with an annual 90% separate collection rate for waste single-use plastic bottles by weight of all those put on the market in a year.

Most part C products are already listed in parts A, B and D but in the food area are:

  • Food containers, i.e. receptacles such as boxes, with or without a cover, used to contain food that is ready for immediate consumption from the receptacle either on-the-spot or take-away without any further preparation. This shall include for instance food containers used for fast food. This shall not include cups for beverages, beverage containers, plates, packets and wrappers containing food;
  • Packets and wrappers made from flexible material containing food that is ready for immediate consumption from the packet or wrapper without any further preparation;
  • Packaging beverage containers, including their caps and lids; and,
  • Lightweight plastic carrier bags and very lightweight plastic carrier bags.

Member states will have to introduce fines or other penalties for companies or people that break the future law.

Once it finally emerges, the proposal will still need approval from the European Parliament and Council, meaning the lists could be changed in the negotiations, with additional products added or some items moved.

A good start

Already Danish Green MEP, Margrete Auken, in a statement after seeing the leaked draft, made clear that amendments will be forthcoming, stating: “The Commission's proposals look like a good start, but they will need to be strengthened if they are to meet the expectations of the citizens and [non-governmental organisations – NGOs] that have campaigned for action on plastic pollution.”

However, Auken, who as ‘rapporteur’ (draftswoman) shepherded 2015 EU legislation to reduce plastic bag use through Parliament and the legislative procedure in general, said: “The proposal to ban single use products like straws and cutlery is welcome, as are the reduction targets for food containers and plastic cups.”

Nevertheless, Auken added: “What is missing is action on the dangerous chemicals found in many plastic products. We need to take toxics out of plastics.”

“What is missing is action on the dangerous chemicals found in many plastic products. We need to take toxics out of plastics.” - Margrete Auken MEP

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