European Commission takes legal steps against Member States on single-use plastics

The European Commission has announced plans to take legal steps against 11 Member States –  Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, France, Croatia, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Finland – to accelerate their implementation of the Single-Use Plastics Directive. The body says this has the potential to reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment and on human health.

European commissionThe Commission says each state has failed to communicate the measures necessary to ensure the full transposition of the Directive – they now have two months to respond and take the necessary measures. Otherwise, the body says it may decide to refer the cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union, with a proposal to ‘impose financial sanctions’.

Initially, Denmark and France presented their transposition as complete, but after analysis, the Commission concluded that ‘some provisions’ were missing. Therefore, the body has decided to send letters of formal notice to those two Member States. Similarly, Denmark and France have two months to ‘reply and remedy the situation’, otherwise the Commission says it may decide to issue a reasoned opinion.

The Single-Use Plastics Directive first came into effect on 3 July 2019, giving Member States two years to ‘transpose the legislation into national law’, so that the obligations under the Directive could be implemented. However, the European Commission highlights that not all Member States transposed the Directive by the set deadline.

Infringement procedures were launched by the Commission back in January 2022, including letters of formal notice to 16 Member States that had not fully transposed the Directive into national law.

In July, one case (Spain) was closed during the infringements package. Today, four other cases (Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovakia) will be closed as a result of necessary measures. Two further cases are pending the analysis of measures transmitted (Czechia and Malta).

The Single-Use Plastics Directive forms an essential element of the European Commission’s Plastics Strategy and the Circular Economy Action Plan, which fall under the European Green Deal. This is due to their ability to stimulate the production and use of sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic products – which often end up in seas, oceans and beaches. The Commission notes that 80 per cent of marine litter items are plastics.

Further, the Directive could contribute to the EU’s zero-pollution ambitions – namely, the aim of reducing plastic litter at sea by at least 50 per cent by 2030.

The Single-Use Plastics Directive

Today's decision to take legal enforcement was made with the objective of protecting citizens and the environment from plastic pollution whilst assisting in growth and innovation, the Commission says.

The body adds that its actions will support the transition to a more sustainable and circular economy, and accelerate Europe's businesses and consumers ahead as a world leader in producing and using sustainable alternatives.

Under the Single-Use Plastics Directive, Member States must take the following key measures:

  1. Prevent single-use plastic products from being placed on the market when sustainable alternatives are easily available and affordable. For instance, cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws and stirrers, balloons and sticks for balloons, food containers, cups for beverages, beverage containers, cigarette butts, plastic bags, packets and wrappers, wet wipes and sanitary items (the ten single-use plastic waste items most often found on Europe's beaches).
  2. Reduce the consumption of food containers, as well as cups for beverages and promote reusable alternatives.
  3. Establish Extended Producer Responsibility Schemes for single-use plastic products. This will ensure that producers cover the costs of waste collection, data gathering and reporting and cleaning up the litter resulting from those products.
  4. Collect 90 per cent of single-use plastic beverage bottles by 2029, for example through deposit refund schemes. In addition, product design requirements apply: beverage bottles will need to contain minimum amounts of recycled plastic, and the caps and lids of beverage containers must remain attached to their bodies.
  5. Introduce labelling requirements for single-use cups, sanitary products and tobacco products. To avoid the negative impact of littering, the public must be informed about the presence of plastic in the product and be advised on proper disposal.
  6. Producers of fishing gear containing plastics will be required to cover the costs of waste collection from port reception facilities and its transport and treatment. They will also cover the costs of awareness-raising measures.

Specific targets have also been set by the Directive, for instance: 77 per cent of plastic bottles should be collected separately by 2025 – increasing to 90 per cent by 2029. As well as this, it will aim to see 25 per cent of recycled plastic being incorporated in PET beverage bottles from 2025, and 30 per cent in all plastic beverage bottles from 2030.