Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD)
Understanding the European Plastic Ban
What are the implications for packaging, retailers, and companies involved in foodservice?Note: All information outlined below is based on the SUPD from Dec 20, 2020. Scroll to end to download most current version of SUPD.
The Single-use Plastics Directive (SUPD) takes effect July 3, 2021. It aims to reduce the long-term impact of certain plastic products on the environment, particularly single-use plastics found in abundance in the marine environment. This includes the most common plastic beach litter.
Definition of “single-use” plastic products: products made wholly or partly of plastic, used one time, or for a short period, before being thrown away.
Which single-use plastic products are specifically being banned?
The following single-use disposable plastic items are being banned:
- Drink stirrers
- Plastic cutlery, including chopsticks, forks, knives, and spoons
- Cotton swab/bud sticks
- Balloon holder sticks
- Cups, food, and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene
- All products made of oxo-degradable plastic.
Additional food service products such as beverage bottles, food containers, packets, wrappers, cups/lids for beverages will need to include Awareness raising information, consumption reduction, ERP, and or other requirements according to the SUP Directive. Refer to the Annex of the SUPD for more detail.
What is a key goal of the SUPD?
The SUPD aims to address the key issue of plastics in the marine environment by addressing how these single-use items are produced, utilized, and disposed of. It includes implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), required awareness labeling (see the Marking Implementation Regulation), and restrictions on placing in the market for some of the non-banned products single-use plastic products. Refer to the Annex of the SUPD for more detail.
What is the deadline and will the ban be delayed due to the current COVID pandemic?
The directive was approved in May 2019 and goes into effect on July 3, 2021. Despite calls to delay the SUPD due to the COVID pandemic, the EU commission has announced that they will stick to the July 3, 2021 deadline. The information on this site is based on the most current DRAFT.
Which countries fall under the single-use plastics directive?
The directive applies to all EU member countries. Non-EU member countries may have new legislation regarding the reduction of single-use plastic waste. This document focuses solely on the EU SUPD.
What materials are considered single-use plastic in the directive?
The SUP Directive defines “plastic” as a material containing a polymer as defined in point 5 of Article 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006, which can function as a main structural component of the final product, except for natural polymers that have not been chemically modified. The directive will ban:
- Bio-plastics made from plants or other organic matter
- Single-use polystyrene, such as for cups
- Oxo-degradable plastics that disintegrate into tiny fragments
- See section 2.1.2 for more detail
Are bioplastic cutlery or plates permitted as a substitute?
No, bio-plastics, such as cutlery made from corn or vegetable sugarcane, or other plant matter are included as part of the current SUPD ban.
Is paper cutlery or paper plates permitted according to the directive?
Yes, if the paper has no barrier coating that contains plastic, even plant-based plastic such as PLA (section 2.1.2 paragraph 2). More specifically, paper-based products have been specifically assessed for their potential to serve as a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic products in the preparation of the legislative proposal for the Directive. Paper-based products that contain zero percent plastic have been identified as an available and more sustainable alternative to single-use plastic products. Refer to section 2.1.2. for more information.
What polymers are not banned in this new directive?
The SUP Directive does not ban the following:
- A polymer that is found in nature and not chemically altered may be allowed. The polymer may have physical action applied to it, such a flotation or gravitational techniques, but not be chemically altered. See section 2.1.1. of the Directive for more detail on polymer definition, etc.
- Cellulose can be an example of this. See section 2.1.2 for more information.
- A polymer contained in ink or paint is exempt. For more information, see section 2.2.2.
- Monomers are OK vs. polymers which generally are not.
How can one confirm compliance with SUPD?
Here are two organizations that verify compliance, both of which are based in Germany:
Why such a focus on these particular products?
This Single-Use Plastics Directive targets the top ten single-use plastic items currently found on European beaches.
- According to the EU’s SUPD proposal, plastic makes up 80–85% of marine litter.
- Of this, single-use plastics are believed to make up 50% of that marine litter. Plastics represent more than 90% of the litter collected on European beaches.
- The SUPD has defined different measures that are dependent on the availability of alternative, sustainable products.
- Specific products are being outright banned whereas Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes are also included.
Which disposable products are not included in the ban due to a lack of suitable alternatives not being widely available?
The following is a partial list of disposable items containing plastic that are currently exempt from the ban due to lack of suitable sustainable alternatives, however, special labeling may be required:
- Food containers
- Beverage cups (including lids)
- Food and utensil wrapping
Why were single-use paperboard beverage (coffee) cups not included in the ban?
In the Impact Assessment for the Directive, paper cups with a plastic layer, such as to-go coffee or teacups, have not been identified as an alternative option, as not being plastic-free. In the absence of non-plastic alternatives for the same applications being available on a sufficient scale, single-use plastic cups were not made subject to a marketing restriction.
Is a plastic wrapper on a utensil included in the SUPD ban?
No, for reasons of hygiene, the wrap on single-use cutlery is exempt from the ban.
What type of disposable cutlery will be permitted for restaurants, events, retailers, and other types of on-the-go food? What about cutlery for packaging?
Only SUPD-approved cutlery will be permitted starting July 3, 2021. This includes:
- Paper cutlery that has no poly in the board or coating.
- Wooden or bamboo cutlery that has no poly coating.
What about plastics in single-serve food containers such as yogurt pots or top cups with cutlery included?
At this time food containers, including the top cup are not included in the ban due to a lack of sustainable alternatives, however, the on-package plastic utensil would not be permitted under the new directive.
What about plastic or bio-plastic cutlery included in food packaging?
Single-use plastic cutlery for food packaging is also being banned. That includes the tiny, folded, wrapped plastic spoons or sporks included in the lid or dome of single-serve grab-and-go products.
What current options are there for food manufacturers and retailers looking to replace small, folding plastic spoons included in lids of single-serve containers?
Both paperboard and wooden or bamboo are the only SUPD-approved cutlery beginning July 3, 2021. Paperboard cutlery can be more flexible, including folding and fitting into a top cup or lid for single-serve packages. Paperboard cutlery also uses 60% to 85% less material than wooden or bamboo cutlery.