Prohibition of Disposable Plastics: What’s next for packaging in use?

A coffee to go here, a snack there: by now, anyone who wanted to quench their hunger and thirst on the go could hardly avoid the stirrers, fast food packaging and plastic straws for drinks. When drinking hot beverages and eating food, plastic packaging remained. Put it in the trash – ideally. Plastic packaging often ended up in the park, on the embankment, on the street or on the beach. In this way, millions of tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans around the world every year. Even in the North and Baltic Seas, plastic plates and styrofoam wrappers were ground into smaller pieces of plastic that fish swallowed if they had not already died in a larger piece of plastic.

Prohibition of single-use plastic

The EU now wants to put a stop to this: from next Saturday (3 July) disposable tableware and utensils made of plastic, straw for mixing, mixing sticks, cotton wool and balloon sticks made of plastic, as well as and drinking glasses, fast. food packaging and disposable items will be allowed – Food containers made of expanded polystyrene (so-called styrofoam) are no longer produced. Disposable tableware and utensils made of biodegradable plastic will also be banned.

Mountains of packaging are being piled up

Carolina Wojtal, co-director and press officer of the European Consumer Center in Germany, welcomes the fact that Germany is implementing an EU-wide directive banning disposable plastics. This is “a big step in the right direction.” Because the mountain of disposable packaging waste is inevitably rising. According to a study by the packaging market research company commissioned by the German Union for Conservation of Nature (NABU) in 2017, 346,831 tonnes of waste was generated in Germany from only tableware and disposable packaging, including 222,419 tonnes of paper, cardboard and cardboard. and 105,524 tons of plastic. According to the authors, consumption has increased dramatically over the last 25 years. Therefore, waste for hot drinks would have been sixfold, waste for disposable cutlery would have been more than doubled.

Even more plastic waste in the pandemic

And the corona virus does the rest: closed restaurants, home offices and thriving distribution services have reinforced a trend since the onset of the pandemic that consumer researchers have been observing for years. Because of the growing number of single families, the significant growth of the mail order business, the generally increasingly popular out-of-home sales, coupled with required hygiene regulations, are constantly fueling the consumption of disposable plastic waste. According to the Federal Environment Agency, in Germany alone, packaging consumption increased by 17.9 percent from 2010 to 2018. In 2018, this was an average of 227.5 kilograms of packaging waste per capita per year.

Exceptions to the ban on single-use plastics

However, there are exceptions to banning single-use plastics: Hygienic products such as tampons, pads, and wet wipes are still allowed, as are cigarette filters. In the future, these products will have to be labeled with a warning about disposable plastics in the EU. In general, all products for which there is no environmentally friendly alternative are affected. The warning label shows a pictogram of sea turtles and a reference to the relevant product category as well as the words “Plastic product”. From July 3, manufacturers of items containing plastics can no longer place unmarked goods on the market.

Disposable beverage cups continue to circulate

Another exception applies to disposable beverage cups – much to the chagrin of consumer lawyer Carolina Wojtal. Because the containers made up “a considerable amount of waste”. According to the Federal Ministry of the Environment, about 320,000 disposable cups of hot drinks are consumed in Germany every hour, 140,000 of which are cups to go. However, since only disposable plastic products can be banned for which there are already a sufficient number of suitable alternatives, the disposable beverage cup is currently left out. This is what the EU Disposable Plastics Directive provides.

Alternatives made from bread and seaweed

But what could be the alternatives to single-use plastic? One idea is to package the food product made from bread dough or algae. Some supermarkets are also testing newly developed protective films for fruits and vegetables made from plant-based materials. However, environmentalists like Ioana Popescu from the European environmental organization ECOS believe that everyday products should not be biodegradable. “If disposable products are labeled as biodegradable, this is not the right message. Consumers think that something like this does not harm the environment.”

Reusable and recyclable as a solution

Instead of biodegradable plastic, environmentalists see the sustainable solution in reuse and recycling. From 2023, food suppliers, delivery services and restaurants in Germany will also be required to offer reusable containers as an alternative to disposable food and beverage containers to pick up and order. In many supermarkets there are already many products, such as fruits or vegetables, that are sold without any packaging. In addition, deposit bowls can support one-way systems for out-of-home sales.

However: Plastic cutlery and styrofoam cups that have already been produced may continue to be sold by the trade. So you will probably be able to drink your cocktail through the colorful plastic straw for a while.

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