The Directive (EU 2019/904) on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, better known as Single-Use Plastics Directive, or SUPD, was passed in June 2019 and came into force on 3 July 2021.
The main goal of the SUPD is to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment, especially the marine environment. It contains several provisions to reach this goal:
- An EU-wide ban of specific single-use plastics products
- A ban of products made from oxo-degradable plastics
- Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes (EPRs)
- Consumption reduction of certain single-use plastic items
- Requirements for beverage bottles
- Labelling of certain products
- Awareness raising measures.
The measures that attracted the most media attention were certainly the bans of specific SUP items, such as straws or balloon sticks. The following includes a brief overview of the provisions, the implications the Directive has for the bioplastics industry, and the status of the transposition into national law in the individual Member States.
Overview of the SUPD measures
Bans and Consumption Reduction
The single-use plastic items which are restricted from being placed on the market from 3 July 2021 on can be found in Annex B of the Directive. The selection of items was made according to those plastic items most frequently found on beaches.
- Cotton bud sticks, except those for medical use
- Cutlery (forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks)
- Straws, except those for medical use
- Beverage stirrers
- Balloon sticks
- Expanded polystyrene food containers, beverages containers, and cups.
Products already produced for the market may still be sold off or distributed after 3 July 2021 without any deadline.
The SUPD also includes a ban of products made from oxo-degradable plastics. These are defined as “plastic materials that include additives which, through oxidation, lead to the fragmentation of the plastic material into micro-fragments or to chemical decomposition”. Member States shall prohibit their placing on the market.
Member States shall as well take measures to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic cups and food containers, as defined in Annex A. These measures shall achieve a “measurable quantitative reduction” by 2026 compared to 2022. Measures may include national consumption reduction targets, the promotion of re-usable alternatives or marketing restrictions. Member States will have to notify those measures to the EU and report on their compliance.
Labelling of certain products
Article 7 of the Directive lays down marking requirements for certain products, provided they contain “plastics”. These are: sanitary pads, tampons and applicators, wet wipes, tobacco products, and cups for beverages. The rules on those marking specifications are laid down in the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/2151). Member States will have to ensure compliance with this rule.
The marking requirements are valid for those of the above-mentioned products that contain plastics. According to the plastics-definition of the Commission Guidance, a cellulose item containing PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoates) will have to be marked, as well as a pad with a PLA covering etc., no matter if PHA or PLA are biodegradable and compostable. Not seen as plastics in this case is regenerated cellulose in the form of e.g. viscose or lyocell. Thus, a wet wipe containing lyocell and no other plastic materials will not have to be marked.
The reasoning behind it is that the latter – viscose and lyocell – are considered natural polymers that have not been chemically modified, whereas PHA is considered a natural polymer that has been chemically modified and thus is defined as plastic .
The following pictograms should inform about the appropriate waste management options and about the presence of plastic in the product as well as the resulting negative impact of littering.
Source: European Commission
Especially the labelling of cups has resulted in a strong negative echo of the packaging industry. Main complaints were that cups would not be under the most littered items found on beaches and that the label does not give any recommendation on disposal or recycling options. EUBP as well emphasized that the labels neither differentiate between conventional and biodegradable/compostable plastics, nor do they give disposal recommendations for the latter, i.e. organic recycling.
EPR schemes, requirements for beverage bottles and awareness raising measures
Besides the measures mentioned above, Article 6 of the SUPD also sets rules for beverage bottles up to a volume of three litres. In order to avoid unintended losses of caps or lids from 3 July 2024 on, it is required to have them attached to the bottle. Required as well is a 90 % separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 (77 % by 2025). The target of incorporating 25 % of recycled plastic in PET bottles shall be provided from 2025 and a 30 % in all plastic bottles as from 2030.
Article 8 establishes several measures on Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, including covering the costs of clean-up litter and awareness raising measures for balloons, wet wipes, and tobacco products by end of 2024 respectively 5 January 2023 applying for the latter. Even more extensive EPR measures are enacted for food containers, packets and wrappers, cups for beverages, and beverage containers up to three litres as well as lightweight plastic carrier bags and fishing gear by end of 2024 – by 5 January 2023 for packets and wrappers.
Impact of the SUPD on the bioplastics industry
The Directive does not differentiate between conventional plastics, bio-based plastics, or biodegradable and compostable plastics.
In its Guidance Document, and in the corresponding Q&A, the EU Commission clarifies that biodegradable/compostable as well as bio-based plastics are considered as plastic und thus fall under the scope of the SUPD. That means that e.g. plates made of compostable plastics are banned, and that plates made of paper or cardboard with a (biodegradable and compostable) plastic coating are banned as well. Re-usable plates or plates made of paper/cardboard or bagasse without plastic are still allowed.
With biodegradable and compostable plastics falling under the scope of the directive, and without any exemptions for bio-based plastics, the bioplastics industry is impacted by the SUPD in a similar way as the whole plastics industry. European Bioplastics would have welcomed a much more differentiated approach that takes sufficient account of the role of bio-based and biodegradable/compostable plastics in the circular economy.
No evidence has been provided that any biodegradable and compostable bioplastics are damaging to the environment, are frequently littered or are causing greater resource loss. It is being neglected, that the use of biodegradable and compostable materials, especially in food-contact applications, helps to improve the recovery of other organic wastes (food, garden) while avoiding plastic contamination.
However, the review of the Directive, which is foreseen for 2027, will include an assessment of the scientific and technical progress concerning criteria or a standard for biodegradability in the marine environment applicable to single-use plastic products.
Transposition into national law
Due to the enormous delay in the publication of the Commission Guidance, which clarified some essential details of the SUPD, some Member States have already transposed the Directive prior to 3 July 2021 whereas others have not even finalized their draft regulations. This results in a very unharmonized state of implementation across the EU, leading to confusion among consumers, policy makers, and within the industry.
Although most of the Member States, that have implemented the measures, stick close to the Directive, some opted for even stricter regulations while others provided for some deviations from the Directive. The following provides some examples of how Members States have transposed or are planning to transpose the SUPD: