Press release

Single-use plastics pollution: Where does Europe stand?

July 1, 2021

New reports show achievements and failures of governments across Europe and highlight growing initiatives to address the challenge.

Today, the Rethink Plastic alliance and the Break Free From Plastic movement released two reports, an assessment of policy measures adopted by EU countries to phase out single-use plastic and a catalogue of best practices that can be replicated or scaled up to support the transition. They show that further ambition is urgently needed and come as the period for EU Member States to transpose the Single Use Plastics Directive comes to an end on 3 July 2021.

The Single Use Plastic Implementation Assessment differentiates between top performers (highlighted in green) and Member States lagging behind (in orange and red) in implementing the mandatory EU measures to curb plastic pollution.

Estonia, France, Greece, and Sweden are examples of countries on a strong track for the implementation of the Directive, while Bulgaria and Poland are just some of many Member States which need to urgently scale up their efforts.

While the level of ambition varies significantly across EU Member States, it remains overall insufficient to ensure Europe actually moves away from single-use and towards a circular economy.

The Seas at Risk Best Practices report and interactive multilingual map, link EU policy measures with effective and concrete solutions, offering over 150 best practices to reduce and phase out single use plastics. The provided solutions have already proved to be effective, easy to replicate in other regions or to develop on a wider scale. They aim to encourage public authorities, businesses, schools, local communities and consumers to reduce single-use plastics and support Member states in implementing the Directive and go beyond.

To curb plastic pollution, the EU adopted in 2019 the Single-Use Plastics Directive that requires EU countries to implement a number of measures including: banning several single-use plastic items, including plates, straws and cutlery, by 3 July 2021; putting in place extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes and single-use plastics marking requirements; adopting measures to achieve consumption reduction for single-use plastic cups and food containers; and by 2029, achieving 90% separate collection on single-use plastic bottles. Based on the assessment of European and national NGOs, the first report released today reveals the performance of all EU Member States plus Norway in transposing the Single-Use Plastics Directive into their national law.

Gaëlle Haut, EU affairs project manager at Surfrider Europe said: “The effective and complete transposition of the Single-Use Plastic Directive is still missing in many EU countries. The measures laid down in the Directive are minimum requirements to be achieved and built upon. To achieve the 50% reduction target of plastic litter at sea, it’s urgent all these measures are transposed and enforced. Best performing States are showing that, with political will, great ambition and timely transposition can go hand in hand”. 

Larissa Copello, Consumption and Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe added: “Half-hearted measures, such as material substitution or cosmetic legislative change, will not allow to achieve a truly circular economy across Europe. It is urgent to redesign both products and distribution systems, and decision-makers can drive this systemic change by adopting a combination of measures such as consumption reduction targets, reuse quotas, harmonised packaging formats and deposit return schemes.  

Frédérique Mongodin, Senior Marine Litter Policy Officer At Seas At Risk said: “Single-use plastic is the symbol of today’s throw-away society and phasing them out constitutes an obvious first step to fight plastic pollution. Yet we cannot rely on the sole political will of national governments. We need bold and effective actions from across society to drive a wave of change. The solutions we have collected are meant to inspire new ways of living and consuming that are more respectful of our ocean, our planet and ourselves.” 

Links to the reports

Single Use Plastic Implementation Assessment: link to report

Best Practices in the EU: link to report

Interactive and multilingual map to reduce and phase out single use plastic, available in 11 languages BG ES ET DE EL EN HR FR IT PL PT.

This assessment shows that only a few countries namely Estonia, France, Greece, Ireland and Sweden have shown willingness to fully explore the potential offered by the Single Use Plastics Directive to phase out single-use plastics and effectively prevent plastic pollution. These best performing countries have adopted measures going beyond the requirements set in the Directive by restricting additional single-use plastics, promoting reusable solutions and have adopted or are in the process of adopting quantitative reduction targets for single-use plastics and/or reuse targets.

A majority of countries such as Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Latvia and the Netherlands have adopted the bare minimum requirements to comply with the Directive or are missing some (or many) of the measures (e.g. related to EPR) to be adopted like in Croatia, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia plus Norway. In many countries, the transposition process is still in progress – such as in Belgium, Finland, Hungary Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain or has barely started as it is the case in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.