7 November 2018 by Steve Eminton

EU discussions centre on single use plastics

Lobby groups who are keen to see the European Parliament’s idea of having at least 35% of recycled plastic in beverage bottles by 2025 are keeping the pressure on within Europe as discussions take place in Brussels.

Crucial Trilogue discussions have started this week between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers for the Environment represented by the Austrian ambassador to the European Union with Austria currently holding the presidency. The discussions are around a number of measures regarding plastics and a draft directive but the 35% number may not move ahead in the talks.

This is largely because the 35% recycled content figure was not contained in the Commission’s original proposals on plastics which centre around setting “tough new restrictions on single-use plastics”.

In the UK the Chancellor in his Budget last week announced a proposal for a tax on plastic packaging which uses less than 30% recycled content. It is not known whether the UK is a Member State in favour of the 35% recycled content target proposed by the lobby groups.

A European Parliament proposal for 35% recycled plastic content in bottles may not gain approval from at Trilogue dicussions in Brussels

A decision on what is included in the Commission’s proposals and is acceptable to Member States is likely to be made before Christmas as further Trilogue meetings will take place.

Reservations

However, the 35% figure could be at risk of not being accepted as some Member States are understood to have reservations about the targets and would rather see further research into the impact of the measure – no impact assessment has yet been carried out which is normal EU procedure for such proposals.

The lobby groups include the European waste management companies body FEAD, of which the UK’s Environmental Services Association, is a member and also the UK charities Keep Britain Tidy and the CPRE plus companies such as Tomra who provide deposit return systems.

The groups argue that “Setting a mandatory recycled plastic target for beverage bottles, where food safety considerations are fully complied with, will immediately have positive knock-on effects on improving and increasing the collection rate of these single use plastics and is hence vital in achieving the 90% collection target set by the Proposal.” The 90% figure is a reference to a suggestion from the European Parliament.

However, despite the pressure from the groups and a recognition within the European Commission, Parliament and Member States of the challenges posed by plastics, the 35% content measure appears most likely to become a future study for the European Commission which might be taken forward at an undecided percentage level once an impact assessment has been carried out and discussed.

Sustainability

What is likely to be agreed is that certain throwaway plastic products will be banned for which alternatives exist.

At the beginning of November, Elisabeth Kostinger, Austria’s federal minister for sustainability, said: “Plastic waste is polluting our rivers, our beaches and our oceans. This is why we will ban plastic products for which good alternatives exist. And we will make plastic producers pay for cleaning up.”


European Council proposals

(source: European Commission)

The Council said it has made the original draft directive clearer by being more specific in the listing of the products affected:

  • On the definition of single-use plastic products, the Council clarifies that these products are typically intended to be used just once or for a short period of time before being disposed of.
  • In determining whether a particular item is considered to be a single-use plastic product, the tendency for the item to be littered will play a decisive role. The Council wants the Commission to publish guidelines, in consultation with member states, on examples of what is to be considered a single use plastic product.
  • The Council agrees with the Commission proposal to design single-use beverage containers so that their lids and caps stay attached to the bottle. In this regard, the Council specifies that bottles made of glass or metal are not covered by this directive but that it shall apply to plastic bottles and composite beverage packaging.
  • Up to 2023, paper plates with plastic linings are included in the list of products for which there will be a reduction in consumption. Plates made wholly of plastic will be banned.
  • The Council proposes ambitious extended producer responsibility schemes and an obligation on producers to cover clean-up costs and the costs of awareness raising measures, including for products which no such obligation exists currently, namely wet wipes and balloons.

The Council also wants the legislation to be more ambitious:

  • The Commission has proposed that producers of plastic items cover the costs of litter cleanup. The Council wants this obligation to be extended to apply also to companies which import or sell such single-use plastic products or packaging in Europe.
  • The Council adds expanded polystyrene cups for beverages to the list of items for which there will be a restriction on placing them on the market.
  • There are certain single-use plastic products for which no suitable alternatives currently exist. However measures will be taken at national level to prevent an increase in the consumption of such products through the setting of national targets. The aim is to achieve a measurable and sustained reduction over a set period of time.

The Council has introduced provisions to improve the implementation of the directive:

  • The Commission proposed an improved product design for caps and lids made of plastic for beverage containers in order to prevent their leakage into the environment. The Council has underlined the need for the rapid development of harmonized standards to ensure that this part of the proposal is implemented effectively.
  • The Council has been more specific about the markings on those single-use plastic products which are most frequently thrown away inappropriately to allow consumers to make better choices.
  • While the obligation to separate waste requires that different types of waste be kept separate, the Council’s position is that it should be possible to collect certain types of waste together, provided that this does not impede high-quality recycling. The setting of collection targets for plastic bottles should be based on the number of plastic bottles placed on the market or the number of waste bottles generated in any member state. The calculation of the weight of waste should take account of all waste plastic bottles, including those which are littered outside waste collection systems.

Finally, the Council has also taken measures to reduce the administrative costs of the directive:

  • On extended producer responsibility schemes, the Council stresses that the calculation methodology for the costs of cleaning up litter should be proportionate. To reduce administrative costs member states may set financial contributions for cleaning up litter by agreeing multiannual amounts.
  • Provided that the targets and objectives of the legislation are achieved, member states may transpose the provisions on consumption reduction and extended producer responsibility schemes through agreements between the relevant authorities and the sectors concerned.

Member states broadly supported the mandate at today’s meeting, and some member states indicated that the interlinkages between this directive and the existing waste legislation need further consideration in the upcoming negotiations.


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