27th November 2018
Single use plastic has become something of a ‘hot topic’, not only in Brussels but across Europe.
In response to the growing amount of plastic and marine litter in oceans and seas, endangering ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health, the European Commission published in May a long awaited on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment.
This was part of the European Commission’s broader Plastic Strategy which was announced in January 2018 with the aim of reducing plastics consumption while enhancing their re--use and recycling.
Plastic, and more significantly single use plastic, has become something of a ‘hot topic’, not only in Brussels but across Europe. With evocative images of marine animals harmed by discarded plastic straws grabbing the media’s attention, there has been far-reaching support for action to combat this plague.
So much so that the European’s Commission’s post on twitter, announcing the publication of the proposal, had an inordinate amount of clicks through to the legislative text. Moreover, there has been action at both a national level, with the UK promising to ban plastic straws and cotton swabs, and at corporate level, with a supermarket launching a plastic-free aisle in The Netherlands.
On single use plastics, the Commission has proposed a range of measures including requiring EU Member States to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic products for which alternatives do not exist, banning products for which alternatives are available and affordable, expanding extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes for several products and implementing awareness-raising measures.
At a technical level businesses and stakeholders are coming to terms with the implications.
Whilst there has been broad support for tackling single use plastics, at a technical level businesses and stakeholders are coming to terms with the implications. On the other hand, for many NGOs, having long campaigned for such action at EU level, there is a worry that the national consumption reduction targets will not go far enough.
Nevertheless, for many businesses, a lack of clarity in the proposal is leaving them unsure quite where to turn. Whilst many definitions have not been fully explained, there is also a concern that the introduction of EPR schemes through this proposal is not fully in line with other EU legislation such as the Waste Package Directive. Finally, many businesses would prefer a more holistic approach, rather than one which targets individual products.
The issue is both an opportunity and a challenge for business
Most of these issues will be finalised during the EU’s political decision-making process. The Commission was under a lot of pressure to produce the proposal quickly, with most of the details to be worked out later. The legislative deadline of May 2019 (before the EU Elections) is putting everyone under pressure, but there seems to be genuine political will to conclude it on time.
The issue is both an opportunity and a challenge for business. Whilst a short term challenge in terms of the restrictions the proposal places on businesses, the move towards a socially-conscious world of consumers provides an opportunity for businesses to adapt to this changing environment.
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