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EU 
single-use 
plastic 
ban: 
the 
facts, 
our 
thoughts 
and 
what 
you 
can 
do

June 21, 2021

In March 2019, the European Parliament voted in favour of Directive (EU) 2019/904. Why are we bringing up a two-year-old vote on what sounds like a boring piece of legislation? Because this Directive is the EU's attempt at tackling plastic pollution through a large number of measures. Among them: a ban on certain single-use plastic items.

Thank you, EU.

There’s just one catch. All global government and industry commitments (including these EU measures) only reduce the amount of plastic waste leaking into our oceans by 7%.

7% is not enough to save our oceans. That’s why we're asking the EU to go further and to ban single-use plastic water bottles. Will you join us?

What seems to be the problem?

It’s estimated that every minute, a truckload of plastic waste enters our oceans. In that same minute, 1 million single-use plastic bottles are purchased around the world. Meanwhile, beverage containers – including single-use plastic water bottles – are among the top 10 most found plastic waste items on Europe’s beaches.

In other words: we have a problem.

Directive (EU) 2019/904 in a nutshell

Luckily, the EU agrees. That’s why they created the directive: a plan to tackle that plastic litter top 10. They decided to focus on these items because they represent 43% of all the plastic waste that pollutes our oceans. According to a European Commission report they are:

Top 10 single-use plastic products found on EU beaches:

  1. Drinks bottles, caps and lids
  2. Cigarette filters
  3. Cotton bud sticks
  4. Crisp packets/sweet wrappers
  5. Sanitary applications
  6. Plastic bags
  7. Cutlery, straws and stirrers
  8. Drinks cups and cup lids
  9. Balloons and balloon sticks
  10. Food containers including fast food packaging

The Directive in more detail

Since tackling plastic pollution is no small task, the EU split up the Directive into six sub-goals. They are (deep breath): market restrictions, consumption reductions, separate collection and design requirements for plastic bottles, compulsory marking, extended producer responsibility, and awareness raising.

What any of that means in practice (aside from the fact that it's not enough to save our oceans)? We dove into the details, summarised below and threw in our thoughts for good measure.

Ban on single-use plastic items

Sub-goal 1: market restrictions

The facts

As of July 3rd 2021, the following products are banned in EU member states.

• Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks)
• Single-use plastic plates
• Plastic straws
• Cotton bud sticks made of plastic
• Plastic balloon sticks
• Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups

Our thoughts

As you may have noticed, single-use plastic water bottles aren’t on the list. Are they part of the top 10 of the beach litter? Yup. Are they part of the plastic ban? Nope. The EU says that they’re banning single-use plastic items that have “easily available and affordable sustainable alternatives”.

If only there were an easily available and affordable sustainable alternative to single-use plastic water bottles in the EU – then they could ban them... *Cough* tap water.

Use less

Sub-goal 2: consumption reduction

The facts

For certain single-use plastic items that (according to the EU) don’t have a good alternative yet, EU countries have to monitor how much these are used and come up with a way to reduce this. Which they then have to report back to the EU. By 2026, an ‘ambitious’ reduction must be underway.

Our thoughts

Since time is running out for our oceans, we'd love to see this reduction well before 2026. To help make that happen, we encourage EU countries call upon existing changemakers. Experts and social entrepreneurs who have the creativity, network and perhaps even experience to make this ambition a reality.

Recycle more

Sub-goal 3: separate collection and design requirements for plastic bottles

The facts

By 2029, EU countries must collect 90% of plastic bottles for recycling purposes and by 2030 single-use plastic bottles must contain 30% recycled plastic. To reach the collection goal, the Netherlands is introducing a deposit system for small single-use plastic bottles. (We wrote a blog about that too.)

Our thoughts

There is simply no need for single-use plastic water bottles in the EU. Instead of setting recycling goals, one of the biggest European coastline polluters could be eliminated completely.

Additionally, recycled plastic is not a magic fix. Unlike glass or aluminium, plastic can’t be recycled over and over without quality loss. Instead, companies have to blend new (virgin) plastic with recycled plastic to create strong fibres. This still results in an unnecessary burden to the environment.

Take action now. 7% is not enough.

Informing consumers

Sub-goal 4: compulsory marking

The facts

Sanitary items, wet wipes, tobacco products with filters and drinking cups must have a visible, clearly legible and lasting labels on the packaging or on the product itself. What they should say? The labels must inform consumers about:

• How to properly dispose of the product.
• The presence of plastics in the product.
• The negative environmental impact of littering.

Our thoughts

First and foremost, the goal should be to help consumers refuse and reuse. When that's not an option (yet), informing consumers about the impact of products is an important part of achieving change.

The polluter pays

Sub-goal 5: extended producer responsibility

The facts

In the Directive, the EU is forcing producers to take more responsibility for what happens with their products after they leave their factory. If you create a plastic candy bar wrapper that ends up in the environment, that's partly your responsibility.

Producers will have to cover the costs of: 

  • Waste management clean-up.
  • Data-gathering.
  • Raising awareness for the following products: food and beverage containers, bottles, cups, packets and wrappers, light-weight carrier bags, and tobacco products with filters. 

For wet wipes and balloons, these obligations will apply with the exception of the collection costs. 

Our thoughts

A logical step in the right direction, if you ask us. Being part of the problem means you must take responsibility for your part in the solution.


Fishing gear

Fishing gear? Surely fishing nets aren't single-use – designed to just toss overboard after being used once? Well, no. But fishing gear does make up 27% of all beach litter found on Europe's beaches. Yikes.

In order to reduce the number of fish, crustaceans, turtles, seabirds and whales that get tangled up in nets and lines, EU countries have to: 

  • Ensure rules on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for fishing gear containing plastic are in place.
  • Monitor and assess plastic fishing gear with a view to establishing EU-wide collection targets. 

Encouraging change

Sub-goal 6: raising awareness

The facts

While more responsibility is put on the producers, consumers still have a big part to play in the EU's attempt to reduce single-use plastic litter. The Directive forces EU countries to:

• Encourage responsible consumer behaviour.
• Make consumers aware of reusable alternative products
• Make consumers aware of the impact of inappropriate disposal of single-use plastic waste on the sewage system. 

Our thoughts

We've been raising awareness about single-use plastic pollution since 2009. Welcome on board, EU.

7% is not enough to save our oceans

Take action now 

There you have it. The EU ban on single-use plastics and Directive (EU) 2019/904 in a (very large) nutshell. Conclusion? Yes, the Directive is a great first step in the fight against plastic pollution. Is it enough to save our oceans? Nope.

At this point, government and industry commitments aren’t enough. Show the EU that you're stepping up to fight for cleaner oceans by joining the Dopper Wave, banning single-use plastic water bottles from your life. And demand that they do the same.

Let's kick single-use water bottles out of the EU beach litter top 10. Once and for all.

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