Disposable plastics banned in Europe... but Spain is not on time

Plastic plates, cutlery and chopsticks will be banned from tomorrow onwards but the lack of a state law prevents the EU directive from becoming effective

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Disposable plastic items to be banned EU-wide from 3 July 2021

BarcelonaPlastic plates and cutlery, ear sticks and drinking straws are among the list of disposable plastic items that will have to disappear from the shelves of supermarkets and shops from 3 July, as ordered by the European directive. The Generalitat and the Spanish government insist that they will comply with this mandate despite the fact that, in reality, sellers and consumers will not notice it yet. Spain has not transposed the EU regulation and the law that has to curb the proliferation of disposable plastic throughout the state is in parliamentary phase. The Catalan law - the competences of waste management are autonomous - is also behind schedule and therefore there is no legal framework to control or punish breaches of this ban already in force in Europe.

The European regulations were approved two years ago, and until now member states had time to adapt their legislation to the goal pursued: to reduce the polluting plague of these plastic objects that are consumed on a massive scale. In Spain, there are few communities that have a rule in force that already includes these restrictions. Some examples are the Balearic Islands and Navarra.

The Department of Climate Action of the Government has communicated the ban on the sale of these products in Catalonia, although they may continue to be sold in stores until stocks last. "From tomorrow on the manufacturer or importer cannot make replacements", recalls the note they have distributed. In reality, however, the control will be complicated because, as there is no adapted legislation, there is no penalty regime to apply.

Until the state law - which has been presented by the Ministry of Ecological Transition and is now in parliamentary procedure - does not enter into force, the department led by the Vice President, Teresa Ribera, looks for ways to apply the ban directly, as reported by Europa Press. The Spanish government insists that these products will not be able to enter the Spanish market and that only those that are in stock - either in physical stores or online shops - will be able to be bought.

This is the list of banned products from this Saturday onwards:

Disposable plastics banned
  • Plastic plates
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Cotton swabs
  • Drink straws
  • Drink stir sticks
  • Balloon sticks
  • Styrofoam containers and cups
  • Any product made from oxo-degradable plastic

The directive also mandates changes to the labelling of products such as sanitary towels and tampons, wet wipes, cigarettes with plastic filters and beverage cups. All will have to specify on the packaging the options for recycling and subsequent waste management as well as the environmental impact of their disposal.

Two future Catalan laws

The department headed by minister Teresa Jordà is developing two draft bills in the field of waste and circular economy. On the one hand, the waste law, which has to involve among many other changes the adaptation of European directives on disposable plastics. The second law will be the packaging, more aimed at the industry and with the aim of reducing excessive packaging of many products.

The state law that is already being processed includes prohibitions beyond the directive: plastic trays that serve as packaging for food products, single-dose plastic products, plastic rings and sticks for holding food (such as ice cream, candy, etc.), provided they are made of non-compostable plastic.

In the midst of negotiations with parliamentary groups, environmental groups have reproached the Spanish government's "little ambition" with the draft, which, they say, does not set deadlines or quantitative targets for products added to the ban. Nor, say organisations such as Rezero, it mentions what should be one of the rule's priorities: the reduction in the generation of plastic waste. In addition, they point out that reusing should be one of the backbones of the text, proposing alternatives to disposable products and not only aiming to replace plastic with other materials that also end up generating waste.

A plague that ends up in the sea

Plastic waste has become a threat to the environment and is responsible for 80% of the waste that pollutes the seas and oceans. It is the fight against this growing threat to marine species that has motivated the European regulations that must be adopted by all member states.

A sea turtle surrounded by plastic