Concerns over internal market fragmentation due to differing packaging rules

European plastic packaging manufacturers are  becoming increasingly concerned that many member states have either not implemented the mandatory requirements of the EU Single-use Plastics Directive (SUPD) in time or provided for exemptions and tightening. The deadline for the transposition of EU-wide bans and marking rules into national legal frameworks was 3 July 2021.

According to European Plastics Converters (EuPC), the 2019 Directive was adopted too rapidly with many of the provisions unclear and in need of interpretation. The European Commission’s guidelines on the scope of the directive, published four weeks before the deadline, have brought little clarity for implementation, the organisation said.

“The room for interpretation leads to unexpected bias, such as banning fully recyclable plastics while excluding paper products coated with plastics in contradiction with the directive, and based on existing allowance for contaminants in EPR schemes” said Oliver Van Volden, expert packaging and circular economy at essenscia PolyMatters.

Essenscia, IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen, and EuPC have joined forces to evaluate the implementation across Members States and to point out the consequences of a patchwork of packaging laws for the consumers and companies in the EU.

“We are very concerned about the trend of breaking up the harmonised packaging rules in the internal market and creating special national rules, often on plastic packaging. This is dismantling piece by piece the EU’s greatest achievement, the single market for the exchange of goods – most of which are packaged in plastic. We call on the Commission to act as guardian of the treaties more strongly and to take more consistent action against such diverging national rules” said Martin Engelmann of the German Plastic Packaging Association IK.

Examples of the slow implementation include the EU bans on drinking straws, certain take-away packaging made of EPS and EPS disposable beverage cups, etc. According to research by the three associations, only 11 member states have implemented these bans so far. The marking rules for single-use beverage cups, so far only apply in five member states. The associations have also criticised the attempts of some member states to introduce more far reaching bans such as for fruit and vegetable packaging, as well as country specific labelling regulations.

“These divergent national measures can, and in some cases already are, undermining the integrity of the Single Market and thus the basis for prosperity in the EU and an important prerequisite for achieving the ambitious circular economy targets,” said Alexandre Dangis, EuPC managing director.