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Opinion: Single Use Plastics Directive Does Not Threaten Internal Market

Opinion: Single Use Plastics Directive does not threaten internal market

Ecopreneur, the European Sustainable Business Federation, supports the Single Use Plastics directive and does not consider it a threat to the internal market. This in contrast to the European packaging industry association EUROPEN. 

Now that the European Council is entering final negotiations with the Parliament on tough new restrictions on single-use plastic products aiming for waste reduction, European packaging industry association EUROPEN is concerned that the upcoming plastics directive could threaten the single market by enabling member states to impose their own restrictions on packaging products.

Ecopreneur, which represents over 3000 companies (mostly SMEs) in seven member states, disagrees with this view for a number of reasons. As recently stated in a letter co-signed by Ecopreneur from a broad NGO coalition including Zero Waste Europe, the EEB and WWF , the proposed measures will not prohibit the free movement of packaging and packaging goods. The environmental legal base provides specific safeguards to protect the internal market. With respect to the packaging marking requirements of the new directive, the Commission will “adopt an implementing act laying down the specifications for the marking” to ensure a harmonised approach and prevent any market fragmentation. Finally, the European Commission is already preparing guidelines for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to align new and existing schemes.

The one amendment to the Single Use Plastics Directive Ecopreneur regrets is an ”escape route” that was recently introduced by the Council. It allows member countries to introduce national voluntary agreements instead of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes. This last-minute change reduces both the chances of success and alignment of approaches.

Needless to say, Ecopreneur fully agrees with EUROPEN that harmonisation is important. Ecopreneur would like to see improved Extended Producer Responsibility approaches and asks the EU to ensure that harmonised criteria are established and applied consistently across the EU, including calculation schemes for the height of levies. Scopes, fees and calculation modes (e.g. for packaging and Waste of Electric and Electronic Equipment) often vary from one country to another, in many cases without information on the fee calculation. The criteria should be able to determine which product or service is (more) circular. Ecopreneur strongly supports harmonisation of policies and hopes the voluntary guidelines will be followed by stronger approaches. However, rather than to attack the legal base of the new Single Use Plastics Directive, in our view, any organisation seriously striving for a circular economy should instead advocate further harmonisation of strong approaches.

To boost the circular economy, Ecopreneur calls for financial incentives to make circular cheaper than linear and vice versa. As part of this, to increase the price of raw materials while reducing the price of recycled materials. We therefore welcome the recent French plans to introduce a penalty system next year for packaging made of non-recycled plastic. This project is part of a pledge to use only recycled plastic nationwide by 2025. It would increase the costs of consumer goods with packaging made of non-recycled plastic. In the interest of harmonisation, we urge the French government to align this initiative with measures considered in other member states, by sharing ideas and learning experiences, inspiring each other.

The European Commission released their plastics strategy back in January, it sets out plans to make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030. Ecopreneur has welcomed and is positive about the Commission’s decisiveness to reduce the amount of plastic waste. The proposal to bans certain single-use plastic products where alternatives are readily available and affordable fits with our advocacy to use regulation to ban the most polluting products from the market. We also welcome the application of producer responsibility and the proposal for clear labelling.

However, much more is needed to reduce plastic waste. Government measures should include price incentives such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), expansion of the Ecodesign Directive to include resource efficiency, ban oxo-degradable plastics and intentionally added microplastics, deliver free training on circular procurement. To incentivise the consumer to reduce plastic waste, VAT measures should be also considered.

To create new, viable markets for high-quality recycled and renewable plastics, Ecopreneur furthermore urges the Commission to encourage the reduction of complexity as a design strategy: e.g. by using monolayers, fewer types of plastics, additives or pigments. We also advocate to incentivise the reuse and recycling of post-consumer plastics and to address the potential for reducing the use of plastic for all those applications where this is both viable and environmentally beneficial.

As a first step, we hope the EU will soon adopt the Single Use Plastics directive, re-introducing the requirement for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes without further watering it down.

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