The “long-awaited” Single-Use Plastics Directive Guidelines have resulted in a “long list of inconsistencies and questions unanswered”, according to the managing director of European Plastics Converters (EuPC).
After almost one year of delays, the guidelines were finally published at the end of May 2021, with the document slated to become the handbook for the activities of both national and European legislators in the implementation of the Directive.
The delay has already resulted in the first signs of scattered and unharmonised transposition scenarios through out the European Union, claims Alexandre Dangis. He believes that most of the countries are already at an advanced stage of the legislative process – with July’s deadline for the transposition fast approaching – having been forced to choose their own individual paths while waiting for the overdue guidelines.
Critical of what he sees as an “unsuccessful arm wrestle that left the operators in the sector and the Member States in the midst of vagueness”, Dangis would like to see the industry and the EU legislator cooperate better towards the ultimate goal of environmental preservation.
“The lack of harmonisation will unavoidably result in severe disruptions of the internal market, forcing businesses to tailor their production processes on very diverse national legislative choices, disadvantaging operators in countries that opted for the path of the over-transposition in comparison to their counterparts, operating in countries with more liberal interpretations of the directive,” explained Dangis. “The Guidelines could have been a tool to provide necessary and long-awaited clarifications. An important opportunity has been lost, leaving an essential part of our European industry the uncertainty about the future of the different national legislative frameworks.
“Moreover, the Guidelines do not provide the strongly needed clarity to create security of planning for companies across Europe. According to the text of the Directive, one of the main drivers for the identification of a single-use food container should have been its ‘tendency to become litter, due to its volume or size, in particular, single-serve portions’. The Guidelines, however, fail to identify objective criteria that can determine when a portion of food can be considered as meant for one person and to be consumed in one meal session, creating further unclarity with the statement ‘the relevant volume and the size can vary in function of the nutritional value of the food items contained and consumption habits across the Union’.”
In addition, adds Dangis, the European legislator only found a questionable solution in the application, by analogy, of the 3-litre upper threshold set by the Directive, to beverage and food containers. “Besides the logical impracticality of measuring foodstuff through the use of a unit that normally applies to liquids, the Guidelines show a clear lack of consistency,” he said. “Among the ‘key elements to distinguish food containers from beverage containers’, it is the document itself that lists the unit in which the quantity of the food or beverage product is expressed, specifying that ‘in general, beverages are expressed in volume (for example, millilitres) and food generally in weight (for example, grams)’.”
Despite the negatives, Dangis points out that it is worth underlining the coherent decision of the European Commission (EC) to explicitly include items made of biodegradable and compostable plastics within the scope of the Directive, creating a level playing field for all types of polymers.
Additionally, EuPC welcomes the decision of the EC to include paper products bearing plastics coating and lining, in compliance with the original approach of the Directive.
“This decision takes into consideration the function that the polymeric components are meant to carry out in the overall functioning of the item and its likelihood of being littered after the use,” he explained. “Nevertheless, such choice is clearly inconsistent with the ultimate decision to exempt polymeric materials used as binders or retention agents in paper products, which seems to be a last unjustifiable attempt to support the paper industry.”