EU struggles to collectively fight single-use plastic

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Coming into force on Saturday, the European law banning the sale of single-use plastic items is only applied by a handful of member states for the time being. And some countries like Romania and Poland do not seem ready to give up these products that are harmful to the environment.

In view of the application of the directive on the placing on the market of disposable plastic objects, which entered into force on Saturday 3 July, the European Union still has its work cut out for it. Certain European countries such as France, Greece or Latvia are certainly good pupils in Europe, having applied this new European standard on time and sometimes even showing themselves to be more ambitious than this EU legislation. But these countries are an exception, however, and most of the 27 are behind schedule.

However, the directive “must be integrated into the national law of the countries of the Union (European) no later than July 3, 2021”, specifies the text of the law. In other words, from that date, in the EU, “we will no longer be able to produce, buy, export and import” cotton swabs, cutlery, plates, straws, sticks, balloons, mixing sticks but also containers. food and polystyrene cups, Frederique Ries, MEP and vice-president of the Renew Europe group in Parliament, said on Twitter on Saturday. According to her, the text provides for a “latency period” of “12 months” which will allow sellers to empty their stocks.

The European directive also provides for the affixing of a marking on certain products sold in the EU (hygiene products, wet wipes, tobacco products with filters and cups for drinks). It should be mentioned that they are made of plastic and can have harmful effects on the environment if thrown in an inappropriate place. The marking must also give information on “the solutions for managing the waste resulting from the product or on the means of disposal of waste to be avoided for this product”, one can read in the directive.

Fighting the scourge of plastic pollution

With this law, the European Union is trying to tackle a global scourge. According to the European Commission, the products affected by this directive represent 70% of the waste washed up in the oceans and on the beaches. Plastic pollution can cause injury to animals (even death) and degrade soils and wildlife, further explains the WWF animal protection association.

In the world, plastic production has continued to increase : it went from 1.5 million tonnes in 1950 to 359 million tonnes in 2018. In Europe, the recycling of plastics is still very limited and these materials are often incinerated, causing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

>> See also: Yvan Bourgnon: “We cannot stand idly by in the face of ocean pollution”

The July 3 deadline explains why Germany announced the end of the sale of these single-use plastic items on Saturday. The law was passed in September 2020 in Germany, more than a year after its adoption by the European Union. France also banned the sale of polystyrene kebab boxes on Thursday, in accordance with the anti-waste law of 2020. Under the same law, which transposes the European directive into French law, the plastic objects targeted by the directive European Union are no longer offered for sale since 1er January 2021.

Europe torn between its good and bad students

Greece and Latvia have also passed national laws in line with European Union requirements, reveals a report published on Thursday and produced by several environmental associations and NGOs (Zero Waste Europe, Surfrider Europe, Rethink Plastic Alliance, Seas at Risk). However, out of the 27 EU countries, the directive was only applied in eight states the day after its entry into force : in Belgium, Denmark, Greece, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Slovakia.

For its part, the survey entitled “Abandonment of single-use plastics: where is Europe?” denounces a lack of ambition on the part of a large part of the Member States. On the eve of the entry into force of the directive, “a majority of countries have adopted minimum measures to comply with the directive or have not adopted all the measures required. In many countries, the process of transposition is still in progress and or has barely started “, one can read in the report.

This last category concerns several countries including Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. In Romania, the environment ministry said last month that a bill should be debated in parliament. But the authors of the report say they have found no details on such a bill.

>> To read also: Sort, recycle, repair, record: what the anti-waste law contains

Bulgaria has not proposed or adopted a text either. According to the report, “a decree banning single-use plastic items is due to be issued by the Ministry of Environment and Water in connection with the directive but had yet to be drafted” in June.

The same goes for the Czech Republic, which had not adopted any law in early June. However, a law is the subject of parliamentary discussions. In Poland, “most of the clauses of the directive have not yet been applied” and, as of June 2021, no bill had yet been introduced.

European Union urges countries to act

The investigation repeatedly puts forward political reasons (political crisis in Bulgaria, parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic) to explain these delays. In addition, the countries cited are not pioneers in the fight against climate change in Europe. Poland is a large consumer of coal and the mining industry represents an important economic weight there. Romania is one of the poor performers in Europe in terms of waste management and the fight against air pollution.

Contacted by France 24, the European Commission claims to “work with States to ensure the transposition of the European directive into national laws”. “The Commission published guidelines in May to support states in implementing the directive. It expects them to implement it as quickly as possible,” continues the European institution.

The European directive includes other measures which will have to be applied in the years to come, in particular on the recycling of plastic bottles in the EU and on the composition of these bottles. The law also provides for the implementation of reinforced measures on the principle of the “polluter pays”, which will come into force in 2024.

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