Single-Use Plastics, European Directive and Recycling

The recent European Directive on single-use plastics, which came into force on 2nd July of the current year, has created quite a stir. The objective of the Directive is to “prevent and reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, in particular the aquatic environment, and on human health, as well as to promote the transition to a circular economy with environment-friendly innovative business models, products and materials, thus contributing to the efficient functioning of the internal market”.

This article aims to offer a summary of the main points of the Directive and clarify what single-use plastics are.

What does single-use mean?

Single-use plastics are entirely or partially made of plastic materials and they are usually intended to be used only once or for a very short period of time before being thrown away. This is why single-use items are often called “disposable”, with a negative meaning, because of the many people who, over time, have irresponsibly thrown away single-use products after using them.

According to the new regulations, some single-use plastic products will be banned by 2021 by European Union directives. Which ones?

Plates, cutlery, straws, sticks for balloons and cotton buds.

What does the European Directive say about plastic?

EU directive 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 (the full text can be downloaded here) aims to reduce the impact of specific single-use plastic products on the environment.

The Directive aims to promote a circular economy, giving priority to reusable and environment-friendly products and systems. The recipients of the Directive are many, from manufacturers of materials, objects and packaging, to consumers, whose contribution is not less important.

One of the aims of the legislation is indeed to raise awareness regarding the recycling of plastic products, as stated: “The European plastics strategy represents a step towards the establishment of a circular economy where the design and production of plastics and plastic products fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs […]. Member States should encourage the use of products that are suitable for multiple use and that are, after having become waste, suitable for preparing for reuse and recycling.”

The Directive in brief:

  • By 2021, single-use plastics will be banned.
  • By 2029, EU Member States will have to collect 90% of plastic bottles through separate collection.
  • By 2025, plastic bottles will need to contain at least 25% recycled material and up to 30% by 2030.

What can consumers do?

Whoever buys and regularly uses plastic products or packaging has a key role. In our daily habits we can make an important choice, not only when we buy a product, but especially when we have finished using it.

On an industrial level, it is certainly necessary to review the production of materials by investing more in recycled and recyclable materials, and, luckily, there are already many companies that are moving in this direction. But it is equally essential to increase the responsibilities of each of us when we choose what to buy and also when we throw away what we no longer use. Because our waste is a resource, let’s not forget this.

An example? One of the main contributors to plastic waste is certainly PET bottles. Did you know that they are entirely recyclable? And not one, but many times!

The European Directive therefore proves to be an essential step towards an increasingly conscious use of materials, and consolidates the importance of recycling plastic both for environmental sustainability and for the economy.