- The European Parliament recently voted 560-35 to approve a new law banning a variety of single-use plastic items across the European Union (EU) by 2021. The ban covers about a dozen items, including plastic cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks, cotton swab sticks, and expanded polystyrene foam food and drink containers.
- All covered products will need to be manufactured from "sustainable" alternative materials – which doesn't include oxo-degradable items – once the ban takes effect. European Union countries will be required to reach a 90% collection goal for plastic bottles by 2029, and plastic bottles will need to contain 25% recycled content by 2025 and 30% by 2030.
- The law will also strengthen extended producer responsibility (EPR) for fishing gear and tobacco products, so that manufacturers have to bear the cost of collecting stray nets and cleaning up cigarette butts, respectively.
If this latest advancement receives necessary approval from the European Council of Ministers, the policy could become a major new circular economy model for other countries to follow, and could have even more widespread impacts on restaurant operators around the world. In the U.S., bans on single-use plastics and foam containers are starting to spread with Maryland and Hawaii considering them.
The move, as laid out in the policy's introduction, isn't meant to eradicate plastics entirely, but rather to keep its exponential growth in check:
"The high functionality and relatively low cost of plastic means that this material is increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life. While plastic plays a useful role in the economy and provides essential applications in many sectors, 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 ban's main objective is preventing plastic litter from ending up in waterways, which has been estimated to cost the European Union economy more than €259 million ($290 million USD) each year. According to the European Commission, 80% of marine litter is plastic, and items included in the new ban make up 70% of all marine litter.
In addition to the material ban and EPR, the measure calls for stronger labeling on certain products — including cigarettes with plastic filters, plastic cups, wet wipes and feminine napkins — to convey their harm to the environment and list proper disposal instructions.
While the EU is considered more advanced than the United States on a number of environmental topics, including EPR for packaging, it might still have trouble getting all member states on board with the new mandates. Last fall, the European Commission released a report revealing that half of EU member countries are in danger of missing their 2020 recycling targets. Upping plastic bottle collection requirements under the new law may not seem feasible to countries already struggling to meet existing mandates.
Still, public support for reducing ocean plastic is quite high — and still growing. Images of single-use plastic heaps on beaches and plastic debris harming wildlife — including a dead whale recently found with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach — continue to fuel consumer desire for more sustainable products and packaging.