EU Single-Use Plastics Directive: What does it mean for specialty coffee roasters?

Kahwei Yoong
July 30, 2021
eu single-use plastics directive

Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to the environment. In Europe alone, approximately 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year, with less than 30% collected for recycling.

The situation is exacerbated by the over-consumption of single-use plastics. Its low cost and convenience mean that it’s manufactured, used, and disposed of quicker than can be properly managed and recycled. As a result, eight million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean every year globally, causing harm to marine life, wildlife, and the ecosystem in general.

To tackle the crisis, the European Commission has put in place the single-use plastics directive, an EU ruling that aims to reduce the volume and impact of the ten single-use plastic items most commonly found on Europe’s beaches.

To understand more about the directive, I spoke with author, lecturer, and circular economy advocate, Chris Oestereich.

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single use plastics
Around 26 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year in Europe alone

What is the EU’s single-use plastics directive?

On 3 July 2021, the European Commission’s Single-Use Plastics Directive entered into force. Forming part of the EU’s drive for a circular economy, it includes the banning of single-use plastic cotton buds, straws, plates, cutlery, beverage stirrers, balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics, and expanded polystyrene food containers, beverage containers and beverage cups.

Specifically, the directive requires EU member states to ensure manufacturers, producers, retailers, importers, and sellers are all in compliance with the measures to help tackle the widespread problem of marine litter and plastic pollution.

“The SUPD is essentially a new set of rules for the EU to help the continent move into a direction of being more sustainable with plastic use,” says Chris Oestereich, director of Linear to Circular (L2C), a social enterprise that helps organisations shift from a linear to a circular economy.

“It sets the groundwork where everyone has to play by the same rules, which is good for minimising the use of plastic and maximising the recycling of plastic.”

“It sets the groundwork where everyone has to play by the same rules…”

As well as addressing the ten most commonly found single-use plastic items on Europe’s beaches, the directive is also set to tackle the pollution caused by fishing equipment, which accounts for 70% of Europe’s total marine litter.

The SUPD enforces different measures depending on the category of the plastic products. A paper by Zero Waste Europe outlines the four categories: (1) products with alternatives readily available (2) products with currently less widely available alternatives (3) products already covered by existing EU legislation (4) other single-use plastic products that do not fall under the first three categories.

Besides outright bans on selected plastic products, other single-use plastic items like plastic bags and wet wipes will be phased out slowly through measures such as consumption reduction targets, Extended Producer Responsibility schemes (based on polluter-pays principle), awareness campaigns, and design and labelling requirements.

starbucks plastic takeaway coffee cup
The implementation of EU sustainability initiatives can help other roasters get ahead

Why does the directive matter?

One of the central aims of the SUPD is to encourage businesses to become more sustainable by imposing an EU-wide ban on single-use plastics. 

The idea, according to Chris, is that it provides business owners with the confidence to make long-term investments in green initiatives.

“The SUPD sets a good footing for businesses because all the businesses know that they will have the same rules to play by throughout the EU and the rules are going to be locked in place for a while,” Chris explains.

“For those who want to make investments that fit in those rules, they can be assured that there will not be sudden major changes. Whereas if you go nation by nation or country by country in other parts of the world, the likelihood of change is much greater, which makes it challenging for businesses to make investment decisions.”

“The directive is an opportunity for Europe to lead the way…”

But it’s not just EU-based businesses that will feel the effects of the directive. Many countries tend to look to Europe as leaders in sustainability, with trends often spilling over into the US, Canada, Australia, and beyond.

Indeed, the European Commission’s Vice-President, Jyrki Katainen, announced in a recent press statement that the directive was, “an opportunity for Europe to lead the way, creating products that the world will demand for decades to come, and extracting more economic value from our precious and limited resources.”

The implementation of EU initiatives, therefore, can help businesses operating outside of Europe prepare for future rules and regulations. By following movements in Europe, business owners can get ahead and avoid a mad scramble to be in line with new directives.

What can roasters do to reduce single-use plastics?

recyclable takeaway coffee cup
40% of the world’s global plastic production goes into packaging

In the coffee sector, single-use plastics serve a variety of purposes, from lids and straws, to stirrers and holders.

Yet without a doubt the most problematic of them all is takeaway cups, with around 2.5 billion thrown away in the UK every year.

While takeaway cups are mostly made from paper, they tend to be lined with plastic to prevent the coffee from leaking.

The plastic lining needs to undergo a complex separation process where only a small number of recycling facilities are able to do so, causing most of the waste to end up either in landfill or the ocean.

The EU recognises the harmful impact of such products and has included paper-based products with plastic lining under the directive. This means that specialty roasters with cafés will have to look for sustainable alternatives or encourage the use of reusable “keep cups”.

However, coffee packaging is also a major source of single-use plastics. An article by National Geographic states that 40% of the global plastic production goes into packaging, most of which are used once and discarded.

Chris tells me that specialty roasters can’t afford to be bystanders in the move to a more sustainable future.

“The way forward for more sustainable coffee roasting starts with practices in the field, including a shift in packaging,” he says.

“The way forward for more sustainable coffee roasting starts with practices in the field, including a shift in packaging.”

Percol is just one example of a large-scale roaster that’s shown its commitment to being plastic-free. Over the last few years, they’ve switched to packaging made from renewable resources such as ​​paper, plant fibres, and eucalyptus wood pulp. 

As a result, they received the “Plastic Free Trust Mark” from A Plastic Planet, a grassroots organisation that aims to reduce worldwide plastic use.

Similarly, in 2020 Jasper Coffee became the first roaster in Australia to offer 100% plastic-free takeaway cups. They use an alternative patented material manufactured by Finnish paper mill Kotkamills that both retains heat and prevents the liquid from leaking.

The plastic-free cup and lid will also decompose in domestic and industrial facilities in just over 105 days. It’s also designed to be recycled along with normal paper and cardboard paper.

sustainable coffee bags
MTPak Coffee’s sustainable coffee bags can help roasters become more eco-friendly

Whether EU-based or not, switching to sustainable coffee packaging is an important step to becoming more eco-friendly and showcasing a tangible commitment to the environment.

With concerns growing over the amount of plastic going to landfill and entering our oceans, taking the leap now can help specialty roasters stay ahead of rule changes and appeal to consumers’ demands.

At MTPak Coffee, we make the switch to sustainable coffee bags simple. Our range of recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable coffee packaging can be fully customised to your preferences, from the shape and size, to the materials and additional components.

Our degassing valves and water-based inks are 100% recyclable, while our printing methods are also environmentally friendly.

Ready to make the switch? Find out more information about our sustainable coffee bags by contacting our team.

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