Circular Economy: Directive on Single-use Plastics comes into force

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This article was written by Dr Annalies Muscat and Dr Laura Spiteri

On 2 July 2019, Directive 2019/904 on the reduction of the impact of plastic products on the environment (the 'Directive') came into force. The Directive aims to prevent and reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment (1) and, in so doing, promotes the transition to a circular economy that seeks to give priority to sustainable and non-toxic re-usable products and re-use systems as opposed to single-use plastic products. (2)

Single-use plastic products are those products manufactured wholly or partly from plastic that is not designed or placed on the market with the intent to accomplish multiple trips or rotations by being returned to a producer for re-fill or to be re-used for the same purpose for which it was manufactured. (3) In other words, the term 'single-use plastic' refers to plastic which is used once and thrown away. Therefore, to reduce the negative impact such single-use plastic products can have on the environment, the use of products that are suitable for multiple use and that are suitable for re-use and recycling should be encouraged.

The Directive places a number of obligations on Member States:

  1. Member States are to take the necessary measure to achieve a sustained reduction in the consumption of single-use plastic cups for beverages and food containers, in line with the European Union's waste policy; (4)
  2. from 3 July 2021, Member States are to prohibit the placing of plastic straws, plastic beverage stirrers, plastic cutlery, and other similar products on the market; (5)
  3. from 3 July 2024, any beverage containers with a capacity of up to 3 litres that have caps and lids made of plastic may only be placed on the market if the caps and lids remain attached to the containers during their use; (6)
  4. from 3 July 2021, Member States are to ensure that each single-use plastic food container, beverage stirrers, wrappers, and similar products placed on the market bear a conspicuous, clearly legible marking on the packaging or product itself informing consumers of the appropriate waste management options for the product and of the presence of plastics in the product and the resulting negative effects of littering. (7)

Extended producer responsibility schemes, applicable from 3 December 2024, will also be imposed on producers that manufacture, fill, sell or import, and place on the market single-use plastic products, filled single-use plastic products, or fishing gear containing plastic. These schemes are a set of measures taken by the Member States to ensure that producers bear financial and/or organisational responsibility for the management of the waste stage of their products' life cycle, (8) in line with the polluter-pays principle. (9)

Thus, producers of single-use plastic food containers, packets and wrappers, beverage containers with a capacity of up to 3 litres, cups for beverages, and lightweight plastic carrier bags, shall bear the costs of:

i. Raising awareness regarding the availability of re-usable alternatives and re-use systems, as well as the impact of littering and other inappropriate waste disposal;

ii. Waste collection for such products that are discarded in public collection systems; and

iii. Cleaning up litter resulting from such products and their subsequent treatment. (10)

The extended producer responsibility scheme also covers wet wipes, balloons that are distributable to consumers, and tobacco products with filters. (11)

The Directive also aims for a 90% separate collection recycling target to be reached by 2029 for single-use plastic beverage bottles with a capacity of up to 3 litres, including their caps and lids. (12)

It should be noted that this Directive is a lex specialis and is intended to supplement Directive 94/62 (13) and Directive 2008/98. (14) In the event of a conflict, it is the provisions of this Directive 2019/904 that shall prevail.

The Maltese Government had already published a public consultation on the Single-Use Plastic Products Strategy for Malta 2020-2030 on 10 May 2019.The intention is for this Strategy to be updated, through periodical review, to ensure that any changes in society's attitude and items containing single use plastic are addressed.

(1) Directive 2019/904, article 1
(2) ibid., recital (2)
(3) ibid., article 3(2)
(4) ibid., article 4
(5) ibid., article 5 and Part B of the Annex
(6) ibid., article 6(1) and Part C of the Annex
(7) ibid., article 7(1) and Part D of the Annex
(8) Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives, article 3
(9) Directive 2019/904, recital (21)
(10) Directive 219/904, article 8(2)
(11) ibid., article 8(3)
(12) ibid., article 9(1)
(13) Directive 94/62 on packaging and packaging waste
(14) Directive 2019/904, recital (10) 


Disclaimer

This document does not purport to give legal, financial or tax advice. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Dr Annalies Muscat and Dr Laura Spiteri

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