EU agrees unprecedented cuts to single-use plastics

EU agrees unprecedented cuts to single-use plastics

However reduction targets missing and collection targets delayed

Friends of the Earth Malta (FoE Malta) welcomes the EU’s finalised new laws to reduce single-use plastics. After months of intense negotiations, the EU has agreed much-anticipated laws to slash single-use plastics in the EU. The agreed text is a significant step forward in tackling plastic pollution, but does not fully address the urgency of the plastics crisis.

The EU deserves praise for being the first region to introduce new laws to reduce single-use plastics and slash plastic pollution in our fields, rivers and oceans. Citizens across Europe want to see an end to our throwaway culture and politicians have taken the first step. The time is ripe for Europe to transition away from single-use plastics to reusables.

FoE Malta supports the consumption reduction on food containers and beverage cups but believes there need to be specific EU wide targets. Reduction targets should be established for the products listed as food containers and cups for beverages.

On the other hand FoE Malta warns that the authorities should not fall for bio-based or biodegradable plastics: Avoid the substitution of single-use plastics by bio-based and/or biodegradable single-use plastics which are still detrimental to the environment, and ensure that if biodegradable plastics are used, they are accurately labelled to indicate to the consumer where they can be composted since most require an industrial composter and cannot be disposed of in the typical compost bin at homes and gardens.

For the last three decades, FoE Malta had been sounding the alarm bells that if waste reduction is not taken seriously Malta will end up in a position to have to take unpalatable decisions about its waste management strategy. We have now come to that stage where the situation is critical and tough policies and regulations need to be enacted especially when it comes to single use plastics.

The final measures adopted include:

  • Bans on several single-use plastic items including plates, cutlery and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups
  • Ensuring manufacturers pay for waste management and clean-up of several single-use plastic items, including cigarette butts and fishing gear
  • However, the agreement falls short of what is needed to fully tackle the plastics crisis in key areas including:
  • No binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets
  • A delay of four years on ensuring 90% of plastic bottles are collected separately – from 2025 to 2029

Tomorrow, December 20, national Environment Ministers are expected to sign off on the agreed Directive. Member States will have two years to transpose it into national laws, which should come into force at the beginning of 2021 at the latest.



The measures adopted include:

What’s good:

  • A EU-wide ban of single-use plastic cotton buds, straws, plates, cutlery, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics, and expanded polystyrene food containers and beverage cups
  • Extended Producer Responsibility schemes meaning manufacturers (including big tobacco companies and top polluters from the packaging industry like Coca Cola, Pepsico and Nestle) pay for the costs of waste management, clean up and awareness-raising measures for certain single-use plastics including plastic cigarette filters – the most littered item in Europe
  • A possibility for EU countries to adopt market restrictions for food containers and cups for beverages
  • An obligation for EU countries to reduce post-consumption waste from tobacco product filters containing plastic
  • For fishing gear, an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme and a requirement for Member States to monitor collection rates and set national collection targets
  • Ensure all beverage bottles are produced from 30% recycled content by 2030
  • Labelling on the presence of plastics in a product and resulting environmental impacts of littering, and on the appropriate waste disposal options for that product

What’s not so good:

  • No binding EU-wide target to reduce the consumption of food containers and cups, and no obligation for EU countries to adopt targets either; instead, countries must “significantly reduce” their consumption, leaving it vague and open
  • A delay of 4 years in achieving the 90% collection target of beverage containers, from 2025 to 2029, with an intermediary target of 77% by 2025
  • Allowing for EU countries to choose to achieve consumption reduction and certain EPR measures through voluntary agreements between industry and authorities
  • A 3 year delay to make sure plastic drinks containers have their caps/lids attached to the containers – from 2021 to 2024
  • These measures apply to all single-use plastics listed in the Directive’s Annexes including bio-based and biodegradable plastics.