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The state of play in the debate on the legislative proposal for a directive on reducing the environmental impact of certain plastic products

During the October plenary session of the European Parliament, a majority of MEPs voted in favour of a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on reducing the environmental impact of certain plastic products (COM(2018) 340). At the end of October this year, the EP was given a final mandate to initiate a trialogue with the European Commission and the EU Council.

The EP position proposes, among other things, a ban on foamed polystyrene (EPS) containers for food and beverages intended for immediate consumption.

The trialogue was officially launched at the beginning of November this year. In the EU Council, most Member States were in favour of a provision similar to the above-mentioned example on EPS packaging. Poland was one of the countries which were against that provision. At the time this text is being written, the content of the final negotiating mandate of the EU Council is not yet known.

Synthos supports the joint efforts of politicians and other stakeholders to reduce the pollution of the marine environment. However, from January 2019, that is since the European Commission published the legislative proposal for this directive, we have expressed our concern that the measures just voted on by the European Parliament would prove inadequate and inapplicable as the solution to the problem they have been dedicated for. This will jeopardise the proper implementation and enforcement of the future directive, leaving room for endless interpretations by national legislators and waste management bodies. This will have a negative impact on the plastics sector.

We are of the opinion that a number ofdefinitions proposed by the European Parliament, including “plastics” and “disposable plastics”, are unclear. Their use will lead to disputes concerning interpretation. This will hamper the effective implementation of the directive at a national level, contributing to the fragmentation of the European market.

Synthos takes the view that the measures provided for in the proposed directive are disproportionate. Prohibitions are never a good solution. They discourage key investments for the further development of plastics recycling technologies and infrastructure. The main causes of the pollution of the marine environment include improper waste management, the lack of ecological awareness and the tendency to litter. These factors are not related to the type of material whose waste is found in the marine environment. Plastics manufacturers are committed to solving the problem of environmental pollution by financing the already very expensive EPR systems. After all, they do not have the tools in their hands to solve the problem of litter on their own. Only with the involvement of other stakeholders - including private and public waste managers or public and local authorities - can plastics producers take effective action to find practical solutions.

Synthos opposes an attempt to transfer responsibility onto the manufacturers. The inclusion of litter removal costs in EPR systems will lead to a situation in which producers are financially responsible for illegal behaviour (littering), omissions (lack of proper waste management) and actions (cleaning). None of these aspects are in the direct area of business’ influence.

Synthos approves ambitious plans to combat marine waste. However, we believe that the unprecedented speed of the legislative process has not allowed any assessment of the life cycle of potential plastic substitutes, and has thus negatively affected the quality of the proposed legislation. Synthos takes the view that the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method is the best methodology for assessing the environmental footprint. The LCA should be used to assess the whole life cycle of not only plastics but also their potential substitutes. We believe that the LCA methodology should not only be applied to the end-of-life phase of recycling. LCA takes into account more than just the recyclability of the material.

In addition, we consider it important to achieve the objectives of this directive, to limit its scope to the most problematic categories of productsandnot to extend the prohibitions to the use of certain polymers. Pointing out to certain polymers, as is the case of the ban on food and drink containers made of EPS, is discriminatory. It is also not supported by any evidence in the JRC report titled Marine-Beach Litter in Europe – the Top Items, cited by the legislators in 2016. EPS products do not carry any increased risk of litter. The ban on the use of fully recyclable EPSruns counter tothe Circular Economy package and the European Plastics Strategy, which focus on the ultimate objectives of the resource efficiency and keeping the materials in use for as long as possible.

We hope that the trialogue on the final form of the directive will follow the scope originally intended by the EC, and will indeed focus on achieving a reduction in marine waste, based on 10 major categories contained in the aforementioned JRC report. We trust that the trialogue will lead to the correction of all the wrong assumptions and justifications, contrary to what it is actually contained in the mentioned JRC reports.

Whether the trialogue will lead to changes in the text of the proposed directive, which will make it possible for the legislator to achieve the objectives set by themselves, will probably be known at the end of December this year.

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