What is Plastic? New Study Explores the Potential for Certain Materials to be Exempted from the Single Use Plastics Directive

On 2 July 2019, the European Commission’s Single-Use Plastics Directive (hereinafter “SUPD”) on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment entered into force. The SUPD tackles the 10 most commonly found single-use plastic items and fishing gear, which together account for approximately 70% of all marine litter found on European beaches (by count).

The adoption of the SUPD represents an important step forward in the reduction of single-use plastics and in the transition towards a circular economy – including reuse systems and reusable materials. Nevertheless, to overcome the plastic crisis and achieve the EU circular economy goals, a proper and ambitious implementation of the SUPD are crucial. This begins by getting the scope of the Directive right to avoid any loopholes.

In order to determine the scope of the materials covered by the Directive, a definition for plastic was compiled, which currently exempts “natural polymers that have not been chemically modified”. This report, authored by Eunomia Research & Consulting and published by Reloop, examines the scope for two of these polymers, lyocell and viscose, to be included under the Directive, investigating both their chemical makeup and their impact on the natural environment. The results of the study tell us that there are serious loopholes in the definition of ‘plastics’ that require attention in the implementing Acts and Guidelines. Specifically, the results show that there is a real risk, currently being exploited by some players in the wet wipe market, that the Directive will be seriously undermined unless the Commission’s guidance gives Member States an unambiguous steer on this issue

The report also makes a series of recommendations for consideration prior to the implementation of the SUP Directive by Member States to close the loopholes identified. These recommendations, if implemented, would help to ensure that products placed on the market would have to demonstrate significantly lower environmental impact than conventional plastics or otherwise be covered by the Directive’s requirements (including product bans and EPR obligations).

Press release

You can read the summary report here.

You can also read Reloop’s and Zero Waste Europe’s policy briefing on the issue here.