Our view on single use plastics


As their name suggests, single use plastics (SUP) are plastic items that are designed to be used just once. SUPs are a significant environmental problem, making up about half of all items of marine litter found on European beaches, with the ten largest categories of SUP comprising 86% of the total. The most commonly littered types of SUP include food containers, food wrappers, beverage bottles, caps and lids, plastic plates, cutlery, straws, stirrers, plastic bags and cigarette butts.

Following the European Plastic Bags Directive, which was implemented in May 2015, the European Parliament and Council published a Directive on SUPs in July 2019. Member States have two years to incorporate the Directive into their national laws.

The Directive aims to prevent or reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment and human health and to promote the transition to a circular economy. It focuses on the top ten items found on European beaches, plus some specific applications of concern, namely balloons and balloon sticks, sanitary towels, tampons, wet wipes and fishing gear.

The Directive has identified specific measures to address these applications:

  • bans on cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks and oxo-degradable plastics, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene;
  • national targets for reducing consumption of food containers and beverage cups;
  • requirements for beverage containers of up to three litres to have their caps and lids tethered to the container;
  • PET beverage bottles to contain 25% recycled content by 2025 and 30% by 2030;
  • marking and labelling requirements for sanitary items and balloons;
  • expansion of extended product responsibility (EPR) fees to cover the costs of clean-ups and consumer awareness campaigns for food and beverage containers, cups, flexible wrappers and packets, lightweight plastic bags, sanitary items, balloons and tobacco filters; and
  • a separate collection target for SUP beverage bottles of 90% by 2029.

In addition, the Commission started to work in 2019 on more specific guidelines and definitions of the SUP products involved. It is now up to individual Member States to devise their own laws for reaching these goals.

Our view

We support initiatives to reduce single use plastic found in the environment

Plastics are too valuable to end up in the environment and should be reused or recycled. We therefore fully support initiatives that aim to prevent plastics becoming litter and ending up in the environment. This includes our commitment to the European Plastics Strategy in the Circular Economy, which the EU adopted in 2018. We also support in principle the implementation of previous legislation and the SUP Directive.

To prevent marine litter in the first place, we believe it is paramount for all EU Member States to enforce existing European legislation. This mainly means enforcing the Waste Framework Directive, the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Landfill Directive.

Many of the measures proposed by the SUP Directive support this existing legislation. However, we are concerned that certain bans on SUPs could also result in a shift to less environmentally sustainable products, while also stifling innovation. It is also essential that Member States’ implementation of the SUP Directive ensures the continued free movement of goods and avoids fragmenting the Single Market.

Clarity is needed to ensure the SUP Directive is effectively implemented

We welcome the European Commission’s decision to develop and publish clear guidelines, calculation methodologies and standard definitions. This will help to ensure the SUP Directive can be effectively implemented, by leaving no room for interpretation, supporting decision-making, avoiding shifts to less sustainable materials and guaranteeing the free movement of goods within the EU.

To meet these goals, the Commission should produce:

  • clear guidelines on what is considered an SUP product;
  • a harmonised standard on product requirements;
  • methodologies for calculating separate collection targets, reductions in consumption and recycled content;
  • harmonised specifications for marking requirements;
  • guidelines for criteria on the cost to clean up litter; and
  • an eco-modulated EPR scheme, which rewards products that are recyclable or contain recyclates, as well as a harmonised and binding EU approach with minimum requirements.

To support these aims, we provide our expert know-how and consultancy to the Commission, for example through the Circular Plastics Alliance, as well as through our memberships of PlasticsEurope, the Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform, Plastic Recyclers Europe, CEFLEXand Europen.

We aim to progress the circular economy and reduce the leakage of plastic waste

We are investing in innovative solutions and working with the entire value chain and industry associations to support the circularity of plastics and reduce the possibility of SUPs entering the environment. This includes developing our “10 Codes of Conduct for Design for Recycling” and supporting brand owners, converters, mould manufacturers and machinery producers in their practical implementation, for example by redesigning caps and moulds for tethered caps.

Through Project STOP, which we launched with SYSTEMIQ in Indonesia, we and a range of partners are helping to transform existing waste management systems into more sustainable, circular and leak-free systems. This will help to prevent plastic waste entering our oceans in the first place. We are also exploring partnerships to enable an effective reuse system, thereby reducing single use of plastic items, as well as supporting closed loop systems for recycling.

See our view on Marine Litter.


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