EU says goodbye to single use plastics as ban comes into force

There are currently more than 150m tonnes of plastic in our seas.
There are currently more than 150m tonnes of plastic in our seas. / SUR
  • While Spain's government has yet to transpose the directive into national law, politicians confirmed the directive would be effective from 3 July

As of last Saturday 3 July, single-use plastic items for which affordable alternatives exist - such as plastic plates, cutlery, cotton buds, drinks mixers and balloon sticks - are banned from sale in the European Union.

In addition to single-use plastics, the sale of items containing oxo-degradable plastics and micro-plastics measuring less than five millimetres is also prohibited. The ruling includes polystyrene food containers and cups.

The move forms part of the EU Directive 904, of 5 June 2019, which forms part of the Union's circular economy strategy, which is due to be fully implemented by 2050.

The EU estimates that there are currently more than 150 tonnes of plastic in our oceans and that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes enter waterways every year, of which 49 per cent are single-use plastics and 27 per cent fishing gear.

The most common items found in the seas include plastic drink bottles and lids, cigarette butts, cotton bud sticks, food wrappers and containers, sanitary towels and tampons and plastic bags.

National law

Despite the EU directive not having been transposed into Spain's national law, a press statement released by the Environment Ministry on Saturday said that the directive would be "directly applied in Spain from that date" (3 July) and that it would extend to "stock that has not yet been sold or that can be purchased through e-commerce".

The directive is currently being debated in parliament, but is not expected to be passed until at least Christmas this year. However, the ministry said the ban is effective as of last Saturday.

There will also be new labelling obligations for manufacturers of cigarette filters and sanitary products, including towels, tampons and wet wipes, from 31 December 2024. These regulations will include information about to how to dispose of them correctly.

These labels should inform consumers about: appropriate waste management options for the product or what type of waste disposal should be avoided; the presence of plastics; and the negative environmental impact of littering.

The European Parliament website, Europarl, states that the emphasis must be on: "extended producer responsibility, especially for tobacco companies, in order to strengthen the application of the polluter pays principle".

Craig Webb, founder of Plastic Free Seas Worldwide, who organise regular beach cleanups on the Costa del Sol, told SUR in English, "Plastic Free Seas Worldwide obviously welcomes any legislation that reduces the volume of single-use plastics that have the potential to pollute our planet.

"Having said that, this latest move excludes one of the major pollutants found on both Spanish and UK beaches: the widely used wet wipe, which is not designed to be flushed into the waste system."

He went on to say, "Also, more needs to be done to stop the large volume of fishing nets which are cut free from commercial trawlers. These so-called "ghost nets" are also a significant proportion of ocean plastic. All these items are harmful to marine life."