23 January 2020 by Caelia Quinault

Concern over Single Use Plastic ‘loopholes’

The impact of the EU’s Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive could be diminished by potential ‘loopholes’, a report from consultancy Eunomia has warned.

The Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive passed into EU law in June 2019 with the aim of reducing the impact of ‘certain plastic products’ on the environment (see letsrecycle.com story).

Report author Joe Papineschi launching the report in Brussels this week

The Directive includes bans on selected single-use plastic items for which non-plastic alternatives exist – such as cotton bud sticks, cutlery and sticks for balloons – from 3 July 2021.

This is expected to be transposed into UK law and therefore apply here as well as in the EU after Brexit.

But, the report warns that manufacturers of products such as straws, stirrers and wet wipes could simply switch to ‘natural polymers’ which could be exempted under the Directive’s definition of plastics.

This would see them fall outside of the scope of the Directive, even though Eunomia claims that such materials could be equally damaging to the environment.

Wipes

The study, ‘What is Plastic? A Summary Report Exploring the Potential for Certain Materials to be Exempted from the Single Use Plastics Directive’, takes a close look at how this might happen in the case of wet wipes in particular.

Wet wipes are consumed more per capita in the UK than in any other European country and the study warns that so-called ‘green alternatives’ may actually result in an increase in wet wipe consumption and flushing as consumers are told that the products are environmentally friendly, with increased environmental damage.

This is the concern if manufacturers should switch from synthetic wipes to those made of materials such as lyocell or viscose.

The research was launched at an event in Brussels this week (January 21) alongside Brussels-based not-for-profit circular economy body, Reloop Platform.

Directive

The Eunomia report said that loopholes in the Single Use Plastics directive could mean switch from plastic to more damaging materials

Eunomia said that consistent interpretation of the Directive will be ‘crucial’ as Member States begin to incorporate it into law, as otherwise products banned in some states may be freely available in others.

Joe Papineschi, director at Eunomia and lead author of the report, said: “The SUP Directive was a flagship achievement of the previous European Commission. It would be both disappointing and a lost opportunity to address problems associated with single use plastic items if those placing single-use products on the market were able to evade the core goals of the Directive as a result of the way that exemptions are specified.

“It is crucial that producers take fuller responsibility for the impact that their products have on the environment – ensuring that legislation is as watertight as possible is the first step towards that goal.”

Clarissa Morawski, chief executive and cofounder of Reloop, said: “It is imperative that member states introduce, in national law, a precautionary approach to the exemption of materials or products considered not to be single-use plastic, with a high burden of proof to be applied.”

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