Over 100 scientists recently issued a joint statement to dispel doubts about the safety of reusable plastics containers during the pandemic, refuting the faulty arguments of the plastics industry.

Time has come to sound the alarm bell and call on national governments to take up their responsibilities. Only effective measures to reduce single-use plastics on the ground supported by a strong accountability of the corporate community will help solving plastic pollution

says Frédérique Mongodin, Senior Marine Litter Policy Officer at Seas At Risk.

Seas At Risk is concerned about the state of European seas, and about the slow reaction of national governments. Ambitious consumption reduction targets for food containers and beverage cups are a fundamental element of the Blue Manifesto, the roadmap supported by over 100 NGOs that sets concrete measures to achieve a clean and healthy ocean by 2030.

Italy

In Italy, expectations were high after the adoption of previous measures to reduce plastic pollution, such as the national ban on plastic cotton buds in 2019 and the ban on intentionally added microplastics in rinse-off cosmetic products, effective as of 2020.

The political debate in the Senate and Parliament on how to tackle single-use plastic pollution has only just started.

The promising Plastic Tax, which was supposed to be adopted in Italy in 2020, has been postponed to 2021.

Because of how organic waste collection is managed in Italy, with 100% plant based biodegradable material being used, plastics that are fully biodegradable and compostable have been widely promoted.

Spain

In Spain, pioneering legislation to ban a number of single-use items was introduced in some forerunning regions, such as the Balearic Islands and Navarra, well ahead of the entry into force of the European legislation. On the other hand, the process to transpose the EU directive into the national circular economy package has only just started.

Spanish environmental NGOs have joined forces to call on the Spanish Secretary of State for Environment, Hugo Morán, to set high targets for reuse, provide access to quality drinking-water fountains and introduce effective consumption reduction measures.

France

France has been the first European Member State to develop a strategy to tackle the problem of single-use plastics.

Six months ago, France adopted a circular economy law, aimed at banning all single-use plastics by 2040, reducing plastic bottles by 50% by 2030, increasing reusable packaging so as to reach a share of 10% reusables by 2027 and recycling 100% of plastic packaging by 2025. However, to achieve these ambitious targets, concrete measures and mandatory quotas for producers need to be set, as well as specific consumption reduction targets for food containers and cups.

France also developed additional bans on single-use plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables and on the use of single-use plastic in fast-food restaurants. “Biodegradable” labels are banned from plastic packaging, and no exemptions are granted for biodegradable plastics as these only degrade in industrial composters and not in the environment. A biodegradable plastic bag lost in the ocean is therefore just as threatening as a conventional plastic bag.

Under the French legislation, extended producer responsibility schemes are widened to include prevention, repair, and reuse. Progress was also made on green procurement, with reuse targets, a ban on the use of single-use plastics in central administration, and the installation of water fountains in all public buildings.

Hungary

Hungary adopted measures that, on certain aspects, go beyond the minimum requirements. In fact, single-use plastic bans will start as of January 2021, six months in advance of the official implementation date. Moreover, bans will be extended to items that were not foreseen by the European legislation, such as plastic cups and thin plastic bags.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has taken a highly commendable step with the expansion of the existing deposit return scheme for plastic bottles to bottles of less than 1 litre. The collection scheme includes a 90% separate collection target for PET bottles and goes beyond the minimum requirements of the European directive by bringing forward the deadline to 2022 instead of 2029.

However, as requested by the European legislation, the single-use plastic challenge should be tackled in a comprehensive way. Environmental and marine NGOs therefore requested the government to adopt a wider approach towards single-use plastics, extending the bans to other common disposable plastic products (such as wet wipes, teabags, confetti, balloons or plastic pieces in fireworks).

Moreover, NGOs also called for an earlier implementation of producer responsibility measures and for labelling requirements to be introduced on more single-use plastic products to improve consumer awareness.

NGOs also developed joint recommendations to 1) avoid replacing plastic with other single-use alternatives, 2) ban the free provision of single-use plastic items, 3) use fiscal measures to phase out disposables and increase reuse, and 4) set up a national consumption reduction target (of 5% by 2025), to be achieved through mandatory reuse targets as well as a target for reusable packaging.

Germany

In Germany, the process to take up the single-use plastic challenge started on Wednesday 24 June with measures to ban single-use items that are included in the European legislation. However, environmental NGOs find these measures not ambitious enough, and call for an extension of the ban to disposable plastic cups and food containers, the promotion of reusable products nationally, and a clear differentiation between disposable and reusable products for consumers.

The hot debate among stakeholders also focuses on the role of producers, for whom voluntary measures are being considered, instead of a more effective mandatory national scheme.