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Environment

Single-use plastics

The EU is tackling the 10 single-use plastic items most commonly found on Europe’s beaches, and is promoting sustainable alternatives.

Image of single use plastics
© Harry Wedzinga / Getty Images

Main law: Directive on single-use plastics  

Entry into force: 2 July 2019

Connected topics: Circular economy Plastics Sustainable development Waste and recycling

Connected strategies: Circular economy action plan Plastics strategy

Connected Commission priorities: European Green Deal

Overview

Single-use plastic products (SUPs) are used once, or for a short period of time, before being thrown away. The impacts of this plastic waste on the environment and our health are global and can be drastic. Single-use plastic products are more likely to end up in our seas than reusable options. The 10 most commonly found single-use plastic items on European beaches, alongside fishing gear, represent 70% of all marine litter in the EU.

The EU aims to become a forerunner in the global fight against marine litter and plastic pollution. EU rules aims to reduce the volume and impact of certain plastic products on the environment.

Background

Through the EU’s Directive on single-use plastics, different measures are being applied to different products. These measures are proportionate and tailored to get the most effective results, and also take into account if more sustainable alternatives are available.

The 10 items being addressed by the Directive are

  • Cotton bud sticks
  • Cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers
  • Balloons and sticks for balloons
  • Food containers
  • Cups for beverages
  • Beverage containers
  • Cigarette butts
  • Plastic bags
  • Packets and wrappers
  • Wet wipes and sanitary items

Where sustainable alternatives are easily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from 3 July 2021. This ban will apply to cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, and sticks for balloons. It will also apply to cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastic.

For other single-use plastic products, the EU is focusing on limiting their use through

  • reducing consumption through awareness-raising measures
  • introducing design requirements, such as a requirements to connect caps to bottles
  • introducing labelling requirements, to inform consumers about the plastic content of products, disposal options that are to be avoided, and harm done to nature if the products are littered in the environment
  • introducing waste management and clean-up obligations for producers, including Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes

Specific targets include

  • a 77% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2025 – increasing to 90% by 2029
  • incorporating 25% of recycled plastic in PET beverage bottles from 2025, and 30% in all plastic beverage bottles from 2030

Objectives

EU rules on single-use plastic products aim to prevent and reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, in particular the marine environment, and on human health.

They also aim to promote the transition to a circular economy with innovative and sustainable business models, products and materials, therefore also contributing to the efficient functioning of the internal market.

Timeline

Key dates related to the Directive on single-use plastics

  1. 3 July 2021
    Ban on certain single-use plastic products enters into force, and marking requirements enter into force
  2. 2 July 2019
    Directive on single-use plastics enters into force
  3. 16 January 2018
    Publication of the EU plastics strategy - outlining the need for a legislative proposal on single-use plastics

Publications

Contact

For more information on the EU’s action on single-use plastics, please contact our functional mailbox.