Single-Use Plastics Directive
Passed on 5 June 2019, the Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) (E.U. Directive 2019/904) legal text clearly stated its aims but not the exact terms of implementation. Therefore, a guidance document for transposition into national law in each of the E.U. Member States (MSs) was developed by a consultant and released in April 2020. This defines in more detail many of the terms which were left ambiguous in the original text agreed upon by the European Parliament.
For example, the legislation describes the “main structural component”, which you would think signifies the largest amount in a material. In the guidance document however, the “main structural component” is replaced by a “functional component” idea. Essentially, if in absence of this component the product cannot fulfil its function, then it is designated as a main structural component. Because of this crucial change in interpreting the legal text, some have debated the significance of the legislation to their own industries. Afera is monitoring the national applications of the legal text that must be put into place within 2 years of the passing of the original E.U. directive, thus by June 2021.
The division of plastic is another topic which was not defined in the original legislation. It was communicated that the definition under REACH, along with other parameters, would be used. The guidance document went beyond this while not offering absolute clarity, so that even cellulose could be understood to be plastic. This has generated much discussion within the paper industry, and Afera continues to monitor the situation as the legislation is adopted by each of the MSs.
This issue has accelerated in importance since its inclusion in the E.U.’s Circular Economy Action Plan. In 2019, ECHA proposed a restriction under REACH on products incorporating intentionally added microplastics. This would essentially ban from the E.U./EEA market all products containing microplastics if these microplastics are inevitably released into the environment when the products are used.
Microplastics are used in many applications, but the idea is to limit the use of, for example, microbeads serving as abrasive material in cosmetics. Other products such as paints and inks which contain microplastics but form a film upon use are not banned, but product manufacturers are required to inform users on how to minimise release upon use and disposal. Additionally, they must report all use of microplastics to ECHA. The aim is not to ban microplastics but to collect information on their utilisation to determine whether they should be monitored or restricted in the future.
What are microplastics in the scope of this restriction? They are defined similarly to polymers under REACH, i.e. those of more than 3 monomers, synthetic, solid, particulate (ranging from 100 nm to 5mm in size), water-insoluble and non-biodegradable. They are also limited to those that are intentionally added, i.e. they are non-secondary—purposefully included in the formulation and not generated upon use. Secondary microplastics will be addressed in the CEAP in the future.
Microplastics regulation could touch the adhesive tape industry in the area of acrylic dispersions of water-based PSAs in the wet state, although these are known for their environmental friendliness.
In early 2021, ECHA is expected to submit an updated proposal, including its RAC (Risk Assessment Committee) and SEAC (Social and Economic Assessment Committee) opinions, to the European Commission. The E.C. REACH Committee must approve the final restriction, which could then be vetoed by the European Parliament and European Council. The restriction is expected to be adopted by the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022.