EU agrees unprecedented cuts to single-use plastics

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 19 December 2018

After months of intense negotiations, the EU has agreed much-anticipated laws to slash single-use plastics in the EU. The agreed text of a new Directive is a significant step forward in tackling plastic pollution, and the proposals include bans on many single-use plastic items including plates, cutlery and expanded polystyrene food containers and drinks cups, along with measures to make manufacturers pay for waste management and clean-up of several single-use plastic items, including cigarette butts and fishing gear.

Plastic bottles
© Patrick Joel / Marine Conservation Society

It is great to see that so-called biodegradable plastics are not going to be exempt. MCS is calling on our administrations to align their proposals closely with those of the EU post-Brexit.

Laura Foster,
MCS Head of Clean Seas

However, the agreement doesn’t include a binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets. There is also a delay of four years on ensuring 90% of plastic bottles are collected separately – from 2025 originally proposed to 2029.

“The EU deserves praise for being the first region to introduce new laws to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our fields, rivers and oceans. What’s less laudable is that the plastics lobby – backed up by some governments – was able to delay and weaken the ambition,” said Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe on behalf of Rethink Plastic. “Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throwaway culture and politicians have taken the first step. The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables.”

These measures apply to all single-use plastics listed in the Directive’s Annexes including bio-based and biodegradable plastics.

Dr Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas, says: “These laws are designed to tackle the issue of single use plastic found at the beaches. It is great to see that so-called biodegradable plastics are not going to be exempt. MCS is calling on our administrations to align their proposals closely with those of the EU post-Brexit”.

National Environment Ministers are expected to sign off on the agreed Directive tomorrow, December 20th. Member States will have two years to transpose it into national laws, which should come into force at the beginning of 2021 at the latest.

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Did you know?…

Over time, one plastic bottle bobbing along in the ocean can break down in to hundreds of tiny plastic pieces

On UK beaches levels of litter have doubled in the past 20 years

To date, our beach cleans have removed over 11 million pieces of litter