Following a request from the European Plastics Converters (EuPC) industry association on April 8, 2020 to postpone implementation of the EU’s single-use plastics (SUP) directive due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Euractiv reported on April 15, 2020 that the European Commission (EC) has no such plans. “The Commission’s position continues to be that deadlines in EU law have to be respected,” said Vivian Loonela, the EU Commission spokesperson for environmental matters. She confirmed that “member states still have one year to transpose the SUP Directive in national law.”

In their letter to the EC, EuPC argued that “unfortunately, the Corona Virus (COVID-19) has shown us that not all materials are the same. Single-use plastics are not easily substitutable, in particular in keeping the same hygienic properties to safeguard consumers.” Civil society organizations, however, say that this is a false argument. “Notably, the Directive on single-use plastics does not even apply to single-use plastic products used in the health sectors, such as single-use gloves, gowns and masks,” said Justine Maillot from Zero Waste Europe. It does apply to certain food packaging items, which Maillot says are still unnecessary. “Those disposable plastics can easily be avoided altogether or replaced by reusable alternatives, such as reusable and refillable drinks and food containers. Those single-use plastic items, including single-use packaging, not only have a tremendous impact on our environment, they also have adverse effects on human health. They simply do not belong to a toxic-free circular economy.”

The spread of COVID-19 around the world has launched multiple discussions in recent weeks about single-use plastics and whether or not removing or postponing restrictions on them is necessary to protect human health. Similar industry requests have been sent to government administrators in the U.S., and a recent discussion on the role of reusable containers in the country highlighted opportunities the pandemic is providing to strengthen current systems (FPF reported).

More information related to the COVID-19 pandemic and packaging is available on the Food Packaging Forum’s resources page.

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Frederic Simon (April 15, 2020). “EU dismisses industry calls to lift ban on single-use plastics.” Euractiv

Flora Southey (April 20, 2020). “Should bans on plastic be postponed? Single-use debate fires up amid COVID-19.” Food Navigator