The requirements of the Single Use Plastics Directive will enter into force soon – what will change?

The first requirements of the Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive will enter into force on 15 August 2021, according to current information. There are still open issues related to the implementation of the Directive, and guidelines are expected from the authorities. This information package will explain what is currently known about the product bans and requirements of the SUP Directive.

What is the SUP Directive and what products does it cover?
The Single‑Use Plastics Directive
, (EU) 2019/904, aims to reduce the volume and impact of certain plastic products on the environment. The Directive applies to certain single-use plastic products, products made from oxo-degradable plastic and fishing gear containing plastic.

What measures does the Directive require?
Depending on the product group, consumption reduction measures, product bans, marking requirements, so called extended producer responsibility as well as awareness-raising measures.

What are the objectives of the Directive?
The aim is to reduce litter in the environment, especially in maritime areas, to promote circular economy and to harmonise product regulation in the EU internal market. The original purpose of the SUP Directive was to address the global problem of plastic litter in the seas by targeting certain plastic products most found on seashores, but it has expanded to cover single-use products in general.

Which products are banned under the SUP Directive?
The Directive prohibits placing on the market the following single-use plastic products, according to current information, from 15 August 2021:
1. Cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, food containers made of expanded polystyrene used to contain food intended for immediate consumption and which is typically consumed from the receptacle and is ready to be consumed without any further preparation; beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, including their caps and lids, and cups for beverages made of expanded polystyrene, including their covers and lids. Straws and cotton bud sticks that fall within the scope of the Directives on Medical Devices are not covered by the SUP Directive.
2. All products made from oxo-degradable plastic.

What do the marking requirements mean?
Certain plastic products must have a label saying that the products contain plastic. The European Commission Implementing Act (EU) 2020/2151 on the labelling of certain products is directly applicable European Union legislation and will apply in Finland from 3.7.2021 onwards.

The marking consists of an image (turtle symbol) and an information text below. The text must be written in all official languages of the Member State, i.e. in Finnish and Swedish in Finland.

Each product group has its own marking with which products (cups for beverages) and packaging (tobacco products with filters, filters marketed for use in combination with tobacco products, wet wipes and sanitary towels and tampons) must be marked. Detailed instructions on marking requirements can be found in the Implementing Regulation.
The Implementing Regulation erroneously states that the marking for cups for beverages can be placed on the cups’ packaging, but it must be placed on the cup itself.

Where can I find the marking pictograms?
The pictograms can be found on the Commission’s website in the languages of all Member States. Markings with the text section in multiple languages are not available yet. Companies must compile these markings themselves.

Which products will be subject to the marking requirements?
The markings must be affixed to the following products and packaging:

  • All single-use cups for beverages that are made wholly or partly from plastic (the marking must be printed or engraved on the cup itself).
  • Packets and cartons for tobacco products with filters. Sales and grouped packaging for filters marketed for use in combination with tobacco products.
  • Wet wipes (pre-wetted personal care and domestic wipes) in sales and grouped packaging.
  • Sales and grouped packaging for tampons and sanitary towels (packaging with a surface area of more than 10 cm2)

Are we allowed to sell all the banned or unmarked products in stock before 15 August 2021?
Yes. Banned or unmarked products in stock placed on the market before 15 August 2021 can be sold/used up. There is no deadline for selling out the stock.

According to the SUP Directive placing on the market means the first making available of a product on the Finnish market. Making available on the Finnish market, in turn, means any supply of a product for distribution, consumption or use on the market of a Member State in the course of a commercial activity, whether in return for payment or free of charge. Noteworthy in the SUP Directive is that placing on the market means that it takes place in a Member State. In many other EU provisions placing on the market is defined as taking place within the EU. It is therefore sufficient that the product is made available for the first time in any EU Member State.

Authorities in Finland will carry out the first SUP Directive-related surveillance project in autumn 2022.

What will the costs of the SUP Directive be?
The costs will vary by product group. In addition to direct product bans and reduction in sales, costs will incur from product marking requirements, the extended producer responsibility, which refers to the requirement to also bear the costs of littering in certain public areas, as well as product requirements, such as the requirement for the plastic cap to remain attached to the beverage packaging.

Will cross-border online sales be covered by the requirements of the SUP Directive?
Yes. The SUP requirements (marking, product requirements, etc.) will also apply to products that are delivered to Finland through cross-border online sales. With the amendments to the Waste Act, online shops operating outside Finland will bear producer responsibility for packaging and, consequently, the extended producer responsibility (cleaning up litter in public areas) concerns them. Foreign distance sellers can fulfil their producer responsibility obligations in Finland by joining a producer organisation or by appointing an authorised representative to fulfil the obligations.

What is meant by national consumption reduction?
The Directive obliges Member States to take the necessary measures to achieve “an ambitious and sustained” reduction in the consumption of single-use plastic products (Part A of the Annex to the Directive). Those measures must achieve a measurable quantitative reduction in consumption by 2026 compared to 2022.

What is meant by “necessary measures” to reduce consumption?
The measures may include national consumption reduction targets, offering re-usable alternatives to single-use plastic products, economic instruments (e.g. not offering single-use plastic products to consumers free of charge) and agreements for this purpose. The measures may vary depending on the environmental impact of the products in question during their life cycle, also when they end up in the environment as litter. All measures must be proportionate and non-discriminatory. Each Member State will decide on its measures. Finland is considering the implementation of national consumption reduction primarily through a voluntary Green Deal agreement.

What will be the problems related to the implementation of the SUP Directive?
The main problems with the Directive relate to its poor preparation. This is reflected in unclear definitions and, above all, in delays in the provision of guidelines. The Directive was adopted in summer 2019, and it is still unclear how plastic and a plastic product are defined. This, understandably, poses enormous challenges for operators, given that the first requirements (marking requirements) will enter into force as early as 3 July 2021.

The Directive also fails to provide realistic alternatives to the products that it targets. Not everything can be replaced with reusable packaging. It is unclear which products can be used in the future to replace products containing different proportions of plastic, such as take-away food packaging.

European Commission guidelines on defining SUP products were published in the Official Journal on 7.6.2021: EUR-Lex – C:2021:216:TOC – EN – EUR-Lex (europa.eu)

Where can I find more information about the SUP Directive?

This article is based on information available in April 2021. There are a number of open issues related to the implementation of the Directive, and guidelines are needed from the authorities. We will be updating this article.

6.7.2021: The implementation of the Single Use Plastics (SUP) Directive is delayed in Finland. The amended Waste Act was approved by Parliament in late June and the Government Decree will be issued on 15 August. The regulation will therefore apply as of mid-August.