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European Single-Use Plastics Directive Analyzed!

Donald Rosato – Apr 28, 2020

The European Union (EU) Directive 2019/904, commonly known as the Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive, is slated to become the first global regulation to potentially defining packaging plastics use in an anticipated future circular economy by 2030.

In Europe, similar to other geographies in the world from their respective citizen and government perspectives are supportive of more sustainable development patterns for plastics packaging. It is important to keep in mind that Europe has always been energy-dependent, and therefore cannot avail itself of lowering greenhouse gas emissions through efficient, cost-effective, natural gas use between now and 2030 as is the case, for example, in North America.

Yet the EU SUP Directive, if implemented dispassionately across all stakeholders from government to producers to citizens, is in a position to generate numerous new plastics packaging market opportunities.


EU Directive Waste Disposal Profile by Key End-use Market Sectors
EU Directive Waste Disposal Profile by Key End-use Market Sectors

Let's analyze the European Union Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive (EU) 2019/904 for the use of recycled plastics to obtain a long-term global sustainable packaging alternative.


European Union Single-Use Plastics Directive in Limelight


The EU SUP Directive initially came about from media-frenzied coverage of single-use plastics having fatal effects on marine life that, would in time, lead to negative plastics packaging brand images.

In turn, visible EU country coastline pollution was strongly considered a negative effect on the major tourism industry. Thus, pressure on the EU plastics packaging industry grew.

EU Directive Single-Use Plastics Marine Pollution Market Driver
EU Directive Single-Use Plastics Marine Pollution Market Driver

So, how to define single-use plastics packaging that is being targeted by the EU SUP Directive?


EU Plastic Packaging as the Material of Choice


There are basically five packaging submarket applications, namely:

  • Disposable food containers
  • Disposable cups and lids
  • Disposable utensils
  • Small-sized bottles (including closures)
  • Packets and wrappers for immediate consumption

On one hand, single-use plastic packaging is hard to categorize as its build-up in the environment is always problematic and nuanced in nature.

Conversely, plastic packaging is attractive as the first EU material of choice target versus paper, metal and glass due to following reasons:

  • Its current high public awareness by the media.
  • Ease of soft regulating extended producer responsibility through the plastics supply change.
  • The facility that the modern-day plastics packaging industry can bring forward new product designs.

Typical Food Service Plastics Applications
EU Directive Single-Use Plastics Marine Pollution Market Driver
(Plastics Institute of America)


EU Single-Use Plastics Directive Moving Towards Circular Economy


European Union member countries will initiate their individual national bans starting around July 2021 with low hanging fruit-type applications, such as:


These first bans will decidedly not affect the European plastics industry as these preceding products come from Asian producers and their related import distributors. Also, European foodservice providers will need to be monitored so as to eliminate bypassing the distributor and going directly to the Asian producer.

As the EU Directive moves through more significant plastics packaging applications from 2021 to 2030, there is a definite certainty that plastics industry stakeholders will be financially incentivized, such as:

  • Packaging end-users
  • Manufacturers
  • Recyclers

A key opportunity for plastics packaging suppliers in this impending EU regulatory environment will be the circular economy opportunity to design plastics packaging for its ultimate recycling technology, namely:


EU Single-Use Plastics Directive Goals
EU Single-Use Plastics Directive Goals


A winning circular economy strategy for plastics packaging both in Europe as well as globally is to:

  • Efficiently recycle first, and
  • Then reuse the recycle content in successive product iterations

This is hardly a new or novel product design approach.


Heading Further...


Roughly forty-five years ago, Owens-Illinois took virgin PolyVinyl Chloride (PVC) regrind (after sorting out heat-sensitive black specs with InfraRed (IR) scanning) from Johnson & Johnson baby oil bottles and reused it in successive bottle production.

Taking one step further, all European plastic packaging stakeholders should take advantage of the EU SUP Directive for fully quantifying, the outstanding cradle to grave life cycle assessment advantage, for plastics packaging versus paper, metal and glass competitors.

Going even further, the European plastics packaging supply chain should strongly lobby the Brussels EU technocrats to move from its current pre-market clearance for food-contact plastics towards an approach where recycled plastic food-contact materials must meet the same regulatory requirements as virgin plastic materials.


Conclusion


Finally, all packaging including paper, metal, and glass must state its actual recyclability, its climate change impact, and its overall environmental impact as established by legitimate third-party auditors, using existing and newly developed plastics industry guidelines, where necessary.

Recycled Single-Use Plastics Driving EU Forward
Recycled Single-Use Plastics Driving EU Forward
(Plastics Institute of America, Inc.)

To explore the newest plastics recycling technical marketing product, process, and application trends stay tuned and participate in SpecialChem’s Online Course “Plastics Recycling: 2020 Innovations & Trends”.

So, we as global plastics industry participants with positive, cradle to grave, environmental greenhouse gas reducing environmental footprint facts on our side, versus other competitive paper, metal or glass packaging choices, can go confidently forward in actively promoting plastics as the long-term global sustainable packaging alternative.

Stated simply, Recycled single-use plastic packaging is a resource too valuable to waste!



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