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Circular economy: Commission takes action to reduce waste from single-use plastics

The Commission is taking legal steps against 11 Member States, calling on them to step up the implementation of the Single-Use Plastics Directive in order to reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment and on human health. Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, France, Croatia, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Finland – have not communicated to the Commission the measures necessary to ensure the full transposition of the Directive.

Single-use plastic products are accumulating in our seas, oceans and on our beaches. They are more likely to end up in our seas than reusable options because they are used only once, or for a short period of time, before being thrown away. While plastics are a convenient, useful and valuable material, littered plastics cause environmental damage and negatively impact our economy.  More than 80% of marine litter items are plastics, causing damage to the environment, in particular direct harm to marine life and birds, and when dissolved to microplastics can also enter the human food chain. Negative impact of the littered plastics on the economy is seen in sectors such as tourism, fisheries and shipping.

Under the European Green Deal, the Commission has proposed policies and actions towards a circular economy, where plastics are used in a more sustainable way, re-used and recycled, diminishing waste and pollution, and reducing cleaning costs. The Single-Use Plastics Directive is an essential element of the Commission's Plastics Strategy and the Circular Economy Action Plan as it stimulates the production and use of sustainable alternatives that avoid marine litter. The Directive also contributes to the zero-pollution ambition for the EU benefiting public health, the environment and climate neutrality. It aims at reducing plastic litter at sea by at least 50% by 2030.

Enforcing the Single-Use Plastics Directive

The Directive entered into force on 3 July 2019 and Member States had two years to transpose the legislation into national law, so that the obligations under the Directive start being implemented on the ground. However, not all Member States transposed the Directive by the set deadline.

If a Member State fails to introduce measures that would fully incorporate into national law the provisions of an EU directive by its transposition deadline, citizens cannot reap the benefits and rights stemming from it.

In January 2022, the Commission launched infringement procedures and sent, as a first step, letters of formal notice to 16 Member States that had not yet fully transposed the Single-Use Plastics Directive in national law. Out of these 16 cases, one case (Spain) has been closed during the July infringements package, and four other cases were closed yesterday (Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovakia) because the necessary measures have been taken. Two cases are pending the analysis of measures transmitted (Czechia and Malta). However, complete transposition measures are still missing for Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Finland and the Commission therefore decided to issue reasoned opinions to those countries. The Member States concerned have now two months to respond and take the necessary measures. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the cases to the Court of Justice of the European Union with a proposal to impose financial sanctions.

In addition, Denmark and France had initially indicated that their transposition was complete, but after analysis, the Commission found that some provisions were missing. The Commission has therefore also decided to send letters of formal notice to those two Member States. Denmark and France now have two months to reply and remedy the situation, otherwise the Commission may decide to issue a reasoned opinion.

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