Single use plastic is going the way of the dinosaurs

The production of plastic straws, cups, and forks is now forbidden in Germany

The production of plastic straws, cups, and forks is now forbidden in Germany

The law comes into effect at the same time as the EU Directive on single-use plastics does

Straws, coffee cups, boxes - a slew of single-use plastic products are going the way of the dinosaurs in the European Union. Germany’s ban was ratified last summer by the federal cabinet and it comes into effect the same day as the 2019 EU “Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment” - Saturday, 3 July.

BFG packaging gives an overview of the legal situation in the EU as some countries already have anti-plastic laws in effect, while others will follow in the coming months. At the same time, a number of countries have yet to propose concrete legislation and measures to fulfil the EU directive - most notably Poland.

Germany was the biggest consumer of plastic in the European Union in 2019, according to a survey made by Statista and PlasticsEurope, taking up 24% of the total consumption. In comparison, Italy, the second-biggest consumer takes up about 13%, or just shy of the halfmark on Germany.

According to Germany's environment agency, almost 19 million tonnes of packaging waste were produced in Germany in 2018 - an all-time high that is likely to have increased during the corona crisis given the growth in food delivery services.

Single-use plastic is deeply embedded in society, so uprooting it will take time

The road to de-plastifying the market and consumer habits is going to be cumbersome and decisions must be made with surgical precision, or else politicians risk a public backlash.

Many businesses will find themselves having to find quick solutions for their production lines, and probably some will fail to adapt. Ernst Bechtold & Sohn E.K., for instance, is one of Germany’s largest plastic producers and has been operating since 1885, however, they may have to make drastic changes to their business.

There are two stages to de-plastification. In the first stage, which starts on Saturday, manufacturers can no longer produce disposable plastic products, such as cutlery, stirrers, plates, balloon sticks and cotton buds.

Styrofoam cups and food containers will also be also banned. Restaurants and shops are still allowed to use up their supplies, though.

In the second stage, manufacturers will have to label products with info on their environmental impact and correct disposal methods.

The larger impact of plastic on the world’s oceans

The EU plastic ban applies to products for which less environmentally harmful alternatives already exist. For example, these are edible drinking straws, paper cups or disposable tableware made from palm leaves or sugar cane.

However, not all alternatives are made equal especially the paper and aluminium replacements of well-known plastic products which are becoming the new norm. Paper production is detrimental to forests, and a lot of energy is consumed in the production of recyclable aluminium products.

Bio-plastics are not always a good alternative, either. Although they are usually produced without the use of petroleum, they do not decompose well enough. Hence, the ban also applies to them, as well as products containing a low proportion of plastic - such as plastic-coated paper tableware.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and make up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments.

Marine animals ingest or are entangled in plastic debris, which causes them severe injuries, deformations and death. This makes plastic pollution a serious threat to marine food supplies and human health and coastal tourism.

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