Public Affairs Ireland | Training and Development | Conferences

Tom Ferris

The amount of harmful plastic litter in oceans and seas has been growing at an alarming rate. Now the European Commission has introduced proposals to tackle the ten single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and in Europe’s seas, as well as lost and abandoned fishing gear  The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten has welcomed the proposals from the European Commission for new laws to tackle the impact of single-use plastic items on the marine environment.


 Why tackle plastic?

Plastic waste is a growing worldwide problem. The European Commission has estimated that plastics make up 85% of marine litter. Due to its slow decomposition, it accumulates in seas, oceans and on beaches in the EU and worldwide. Its residues are found in marine species – such as sea turtles, seals, whales and birds, but also in fish and shellfish, and therefore in the human food chain.. Tackling this growing problem is a must and it should bring new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and job creation. 


The big issue is that so many plastic products are discarded and not recycled. The European Commission has announced a set of draft rules to reduce plastic waste in a number of different ways. For example, where alternatives are readily available and affordable, single-use plastic products will be banned from the market. In the case of products without straight-forward alternatives, the focus will be on limiting their use through a national reduction in consumption; design and labelling requirements and waste management/clean-up obligations for producers.


But the European Commission does not intend on being the only actor on the stage. Member States will also have to play a key role. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans (European Commission) summed-up the shared role very well, when he said that – “This Commission promised to be big on the big issues and leave the rest to Member States. Plastic waste is undeniably a big issue and Europeans need to act together to tackle this problem… Today’s proposals will reduce single use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. We will ban some of these items, and substitute them with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favourite products.”  


How will the new rules work?

The new rules will not stand on their own. They will build on existing rules such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and Waste Directives, and complement other measures taken against marine pollution, such as under the Port Reception Facilities Directive, and proposed restrictions on microplastics and oxo-degradable plastics. The proposed rules will bring both environmental and economic benefits. According to the European Commission, the new measures will for example:

  • avoid the emission of 3.4 million tonnes of CO2equivalent;
  • avoid environmental damages which would cost the equivalent of €22 billion by 2030;
  • save consumers a projected €6.5 billion.

Along with the new EU waste rules and targets adopted recently, the European Commission hopes that these new rules will provide the clarity, legal certainty and economies of scale that EU companies need, in order to take the lead in new markets for innovative multi-use alternatives, new materials and better designed products.

The draft rules have been designed to impact on different parts of the economy and society in different ways. Box A summarises the different dimensions of the proposals as presented by the European Commission. 


Box A

European Commission Proposals to reduce Plastic Products and tackle Discarded Fishing Gear


The EU is now focussing on single-use plastic products and fishing gear that together account for 70% of the marine litter in Europe. The new rules will impact in a number of different ways:


Plastic ban in certain products: The ban will apply to plastic cotton buds, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers and sticks for balloons which will all have to be made exclusively from more sustainable materials instead. Single-use drinks containers made with plastic will only be allowed on the market if their caps and lids remain attached;


Consumption reduction targets: Member States will have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups. This will require setting national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale, or ensuring that single-use plastic products cannot be provided free of charge;


Obligations for producers: Producers will help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as awareness raising measures;


Collection targets: Member States will be obliged to collect 90% of single-use plastic drinks bottles by 2025, for example through deposit refund schemes;


Labelling Requirements: Certain products will require a clear and standardised labelling which indicates how waste should be disposed, the negative environmental impact of the product, and the presence of plastics in the products. This will apply to sanitary towels, wet wipes and balloons;


Fishing gear, which accounts for 27% of all beach litter, the Commission aims to complete the existing policy framework with producer responsibility schemes for fishing gear containing plastic.

Source: European Commission,


What next?

The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten has welcomed the proposals from the European Commission for new draft laws. In his Press Statement on 28 May, he said that European Commission’s proposal – “… envisages a range of measures available to Member States to tackle single-use plastic items which I very much welcome.  I am urging the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to consider these proposals as soon as possible . Of course, Ireland is only one voice in the European Council. It will be necessary for all 28 Member States to move together as one to tackle plastic waste.

The draft rules must next be adopted. In that context, the European Commission’s proposals will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption. The Commission is urging the decision-makers to treat these draft rules as a priority in order to deliver tangible results for Europeans before the elections in May 2019. Of course, that is not the end of the road. It could take as long as two years for EU directives to be transposed into national laws once they have been agreed and officially published. That means the plastics ban will not come into force until after Brexit, suggesting it will not be among the bulk of legislation to be automatically transposed into UK law.



Tom Ferris is a Consultant Economist specialising in Better Regulation.
He lectures on a number of PAI courses and contributes blogs regularly to PAI.
He was formerly the Senior Economist at the Department of Transport.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *