Photographer: Alice Knitter

Single-use to-go convenience packaging need to be tackled

Brussels, 2 November 2017 – Beach clean-ups show that around half of the litter found comes from single-use plastic packaging. These are plastic items made to be used once only before being thrown away. Single-use items can be divided into two sorts; plastic which you take off your product at home and plastic you remove on your way somewhere. It is the latter that poses the biggest problem, because to-go packaging has a greater chance of being disregarded in the environment and contributing to plastic soup.  It is this sort of packaging which is found on beaches and at tourist resorts; either disregarded by day trippers or washed ashore. It includes plastic cups, bottles, bags, cigarette butts, sweet wrappers, straws and bottle tops.

Seas at Risk (which represents a large number of environmental organizations in Brussels) carried out research into to-go disposable plastics. The report draws the conclusion that a large proportion of plastic soup could be prevented relatively easily through a targeted approach. This kind of approach is desperately needed.

One of the main conclusions of the research is that reduction agreements need to be made for single-use to-go plastics within the European Union. A reduction can be achieved in the same way as with plastic bags.

The European Union has imposed reduction targets on the member states, but it is up to the EU countries themselves which measures they use. This can be done by banning free plastic bags, introducing a general ban on certain types of bags or charging for bags. In the meantime, pollution by plastic bags has been cut back successfully, which shows that reduction targets and regulation can be effective.

In the case of plastic bags, this was done via complimentary legislation for the packaging and packaging waste directive. Normally there is free movement of goods within the European Union, although exceptions are possible when there is possible harm to health and the environment. The same judicial basis can be used to impose compulsory reduction targets as exists for other individual items when plastic packaging ends up in the environment. The most effective measure is, therefore, to impose reduction targets on products which are consumed en route.