Our oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight) by 2050 according to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Plastic waste is a huge threat to our oceans, killing marine and bird life, and consumed by the seafood we love to eat.
According to a study commissioned by the European Commission based on beach litter data, around 90 per cent of all single-use plastics (SUP) items found consist mainly of 10 items that make up 50 per cent of all litter found on European beaches.
THE GOOD NEWS
Starting July 3rd, the EU bans the top 10 SUP items including items that came with take-away during lockdown and balloons and sticks for balloons, cigarette butts, cotton bud sticks, packets and wrappers, wet wipes and sanitary items. Hotels, cafes and restaurants in the EU will now be forced to use beverage containers, cutlery, food containers, cups, cutlery, plastic bags, stirrers, straws and plates made of bamboo, cellulose, lentils or other truly biodegradable materials.
Marketed with creative PR as biodegradable, the EU also binned oxo-degradable plastic bags and drink and food containers made from expanded polystyrene which was made practical in 1938, and easily break down into tiny plastic particles eaten by birds and fish. Bioplastics, made of biological resources instead of fossil fuels like coal, gas or oil but take a very long time to decompose under very specific conditions, are also banned.
The law also directs companies to use more recycled plastics in disposable drinking bottles, but the measure allows for individual countries to adopt their own laws, which in some cases are much weaker.
EU members have had two years to implement the EU directive into national law called the Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive. It requires all 27 EU member states to enforce the new guidelines, however many chose to support only some of the measures and four countries – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania – have not implemented the ban. Countries who don’t respect these obligations will be fined.
Some EU countries – France and Greece – are ahead since early 2020 while many EU member states are fragmented in the need to urgently scale up their efforts. Italy and Belgium are also introducing a plastics tax or levy to disincentivize the use of plastics. Norway, a non-EU member, is also implementing the SUP directive as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), but Iceland and Liechtenstein have yet to step-up.
Switzerland where NOW is headquartered, currently does not have similar plans to ban or to mark certain single-use plastic products according to swissinfo.ch, and microplastic pollution in Lake Geneva is at par with the Mediterranean.
TWO STEPS FORWARD AND ONE STEP BACK
There are enough environmentally-friendly alternatives available to ban all kinds of SUP food and beverage containers, but the EU is not imposing total market restrictions. Only SUP plastic cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene will be banned.
Other SUPs have been ‘restricted’ but not outlawed, requiring producers to institute campaign awareness on which products contain plastics, how to dispose of them correctly and their negative environmental impact.
Graphics credited to Selina Oberpillar
Companies also have to pay for the clean-up of SUP bags, bottles, beverage and food containers, packets and wrappers, tobacco filters in cigarette butts, sanitary items and wet wipes and balloons in a measure called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). However, EPR and all the other measures for items that are not fully replaceable yet will come within the next few years. There is no mention of diapers!
Shockingly, plastic drink bottles are still allowed! The SUP Directive does not ban some of the 1.3 billion plastic drink bottles made of PET fossil-based plastic containers sold daily around the world. PET can be recycled and used to make new bottles, packaging or fibers, but only 65% of PET bottles in Europe are collected for recycling, and the rest will take hundreds of years to decompose.
According to Greenpeace, there are a LOT of corporate polluters. but PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Nestlé are the worst of the WORST. They’re the world’s three biggest plastic polluters, with Coca-Cola alone responsible for three million tons of plastic each year! They’re all making insufficient pledges about sustainability, but talk is cheap because they’re all still making and selling plastic-wrapped products by the billions.
PET can be recycled and used to make new bottles, packaging or fibers, but only 65% of PET bottles in Europe are collected for recycling, and the rest will take hundreds of years to decompose.
SUPs ban exempts medical-related plastics, including the masks and gloves. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), around 170,000 additional tons of plastic-based face masks were introduced into the EU during the first six months of the pandemic.
According to the World Economic Forum in 2020, 170 nations pledged to “significantly reduce” the use of certain single-use plastic by 2030, but these pledges lack teeth. Overall, the global ambition to reduce plastic pollution is clearly insufficient to ensure our world actually move towards a circular economy.
Buying items in single-use plastic or products in plastic bottles are not only polluting our beaches and oceans, we are propping up the fossil fuel industry, and the carbon footprint of our trash is warming our planet! We deserve to have choices that don’t destroy the Earth and compromise our values. Someone with the wallet needs to speak up and hold companies that produce and sell them accountable. That someone is each and everyone of us.