EU Takes Bold Steps to Tackle Plastic Waste Crisis: Mini-Shampoo Bottles and Throwaway Cups Under Fire
The EU's comprehensive measures to combat plastic and packaging waste underscore its commitment to addressing a growing environmental challenge.
The European Union (EU) is on a mission to combat its growing plastic waste problem by implementing sweeping legal proposals aimed at reducing the mountains of waste produced across the continent. A draft EU regulation published recently outlines ambitious plans to ban mini-shampoo bottles in hotels, phase out throwaway cups in cafes and restaurants, and introduce mandatory deposit and return schemes for single-use plastic drinks bottles and metal cans. These measures, along with an end to excessive packaging practices by e-commerce firms, are designed to address the escalating crisis of plastic and packaging waste in Europe.
The Need for Change
Europe is grappling with a significant surge in plastic and packaging waste, with statistics indicating that 40% of new plastics and 50% of paper are utilized for packaging purposes, consuming vast amounts of virgin materials. In response to this pressing issue, the EU previously enacted a law in 2019 to ban common single-use plastic items such as cutlery, stirrers, and straws. However, EU officials recognize the urgency to go even further to combat the rising tide of packaging waste. On average, each European generates 180kg of packaging waste annually, a figure projected to increase by 19% by 2030 if no substantial action is taken.
Under the latest regulatory proposals, EU member states will be tasked with reducing packaging waste per capita by 15% by 2040 compared to 2018 levels. Achieving this target will require a shift towards more reuse and refilling practices, as well as stricter controls on packaging. For instance, e-commerce retailers will need to ensure that empty space in a box does not exceed 40% concerning the product's size.
Some types of "avoidable packaging" will face outright bans, including mini-shampoo bottles in hotels and single-use packaging for small quantities of fruits and vegetables. Hotels, cafes, and restaurants will no longer be permitted to serve customers using throwaway cups and plates for dining in.
By 2040, restaurants offering takeout services will be required to serve 40% of their meals in reusable or refillable packaging, while reusable or customer-supplied cups will become the norm for most takeaway coffees.
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission executive vice-president, emphasized the need for improved packaging practices, stating, "Such overpacking is a nuisance to us and is increasingly damaging to our environment." He added, "We want more packaging to be reusable because we cannot recycle ourselves out of a growing stream of waste. Reusable packaging in a well-functioning reuse system is better for the environment than single-use options."
Harmonized Labels and Transparency
To eliminate confusion about recycling, the commission is proposing harmonized labels, likely in the form of pictograms, to provide clear guidance to consumers on which bins to use.
In a separate law, the commission aims to address misleading claims of "biobased," "biodegradable," or "compostable" products by setting minimum standards. This move aims to combat greenwashing, ensuring consumers can assess an item's biodegradation rate, biomass utilization in production, and suitability for home composting.
Positive Reception and Concerns
Pascal Canfin, the MEP chairing the European parliament's environment committee, praised the packaging proposal as a significant step forward, describing it as the most ambitious globally. He emphasized the shift from disposable to recyclable materials and the commitment to a reuse trajectory that promises resource efficiency and reduced fossil fuel dependence.
However, ocean conservation group Oceana raised concerns about industry influence, particularly the extension of targets for reducing single-use plastics to 2040. Natividad Sánchez, leading Oceana's plastics campaign in Europe, noted the missed opportunity to address marine litter at its source but acknowledged the proposal's potential to make a substantial difference.
The EU's comprehensive measures to combat plastic and packaging waste underscore its commitment to addressing a growing environmental challenge. These ambitious proposals aim to revolutionize packaging practices, encourage reuse, and reduce plastic pollution. While receiving praise for their ambition, they also face scrutiny for potential industry influence. Nevertheless, these efforts represent a significant step forward in the global fight against plastic waste, demonstrating the EU's determination to protect the environment and promote sustainable practices.