EU dismisses industry calls to lift ban on single-use plastics

"The single use plastic directive foresees exceptions for medical devices,” an EU spokesperson said. [Tim Evanson / Flickr]

Deadlines have to be respected, says the European Commission in response to calls by industry to lift an EU-wide ban on some single-use plastic items because of health and hygiene concerns raised during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The Commission’s position continues to be that deadlines in EU law have to be respected,” said Vivian Loonela, the EU Commission spokesperson for environmental matters.

“Member states still have one year to transpose the SUP Directive in national law,” Loonela replied when asked to comment about industry calls to postpone the implementation of the single-use plastic directive “for at least an additional year”.

The single-use plastic directive was adopted in June last year and introduced bans on a selected number of throw-away items such as cutlery, beverage cups, balloon sticks, straws and cotton bud sticks.

The objective was to reduce marine litter, 80% of which is land-based, the European Commission said at the time, pointing out that 4.6-12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste find their way into the world’s oceans each year.

EU nails rapid-fire deal on single-use plastics

Negotiators of the European Parliament, Council and Commission struck a provisional agreement early Wednesday morning (19 December) on banning single-use plastic products like cutlery and food containers, in what is one of the most quickly finalised proposals in recent EU memory.

But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown Europe into “a completely different world where hygiene and consumer health will be the number one priority,” argued the European Plastics Converters (EuPC), a trade association.

“The freedom of circulation of these goods is necessary to keep hygiene, health and safety in the supply of many products, such as food contact materials, protective equipment, medical devices and medicines,” EuPC said in a letter addressed to the European Commission last week.

“The term single-use plastics is completely wrong and not justified,” EuPC argued in the letter, calling on the Commission “to lift all bans on some of the single-use plastics items” and postpone the deadlines in the directive “for at least an additional year”.

However, the Commission dismissed the health and safety argument put forward by the European plastic industry.

“With respect to the arguments raised by EuPC, good hygiene practices should be applied to all products, including substitutes of banned SUPs,” Loonela told EURACTIV in emailed comments.

“Moreover, the SUP Directive foresees exceptions for medical devices,” Loonela said.

Separately, the Commission also issued guidelines to EU member states in order to ensure safe handling of the growing amount of medical waste generated during the pandemic.

But Loonela said “it is too early to assess the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the overall amount of plastic packaging waste that will be generated this year”.

“In the current circumstances where many essential economic activities, including waste management, are under pressure, it is even more important to continue the overall efforts to reduce waste,” she said.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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