In 2019, the European Union (EU) adopted landmark legislation on single-use plastics, requiring EU countries to ban certain single-use plastics, reduce the consumption of others and put in place extended producer responsibility schemes. This was a major step in moving away from single-use plastics and reducing plastic pollution.
Over the past year, the European Commission has been developing guidelines to support the implementation of the new rules by EU countries, notably by specifying in greater detail which single-use plastic products are covered by the Directive. While technical, these guidelines are very important, as they will partly determine how much change the Directive will yield.
In this context, the definition of “plastic” has been largely debated. The last draft of the guidelines defines plastic in such a way that certain single-use plastic products, made of materials such as viscose and cellophane, would no longer fall under the Directive.
Indeed, this would exclude certain types of wipes and menstrual products, even though they have similar impacts on the environment as other types of wipes and menstrual products that are covered by the legislation. Single-use plastic straws made of cellophane would still be allowed on the market, even though the Directive clearly bans single-use plastic straws.
With the current wording in the draft, the ban would be rendered completely ineffective. It would result in regrettable substitution of one single-use with another and would also make enforcement of the Directive very difficult as one cannot tell apart a polypropylene straw (banned) from a cellophane straw (not banned according to the draft guidelines).
Civil society has raised concerns over the exemption of viscose and cellophane on multiple occasions and again today. A letter was sent to highlight that the last draft of the guidelines would render enforcement impossible and create confusion for consumers.
Back in 2020, in less than a week, over 150,000 people had called for the establishment of ambitious guidelines which would support the implementation of the SUP Directive rather than undermine it.
Read the letter here