Moving away from single use: guide for national decision makers to implement the single-use plastics directive

A shared collaboration by Rethink Plastic alliance and Break Free From Plastic.


Plastic pollution affects even the most remote areas on the planet, with between five and 13 million tonnes of plastic estimated to end up in the ocean every year. With global production of plastics already having increased more than 20 times in the past 50 years and estimated to double again by 2035 and quadruple by 2050, the issue is ever more pressing. Single-use plastics – those designed to be used only once, often for a very short period – make up a significant proportion of these plastics.


The “Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment” (commonly referred to as the Single-Use Plastics (SUP) Directive) entered into force on 2 July 2019. It aims to tackle pollution from single-use plastics (and fishing gear), as the items most commonly found on European beaches.


This guide outlines the key elements of the SUP Directive and makes some recommendations on how national decision makers can best implement its provisions on single-use plastic.


(A further guide will follow on fishing gear and sea-based plastic pollution.)


Download the report here


Named: major brands ‘breaking EU chemical safety law’

By Jack Hunter, European Environmental Bureau. Originally published by the EEB.

21 May 2019, Brussels – Major cosmetics, food, medicine and plastic producers across Europe are breaking the law by using millions of tonnes of chemicals without completing important safety checks, according to an analysis of government files.

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) says this is a priority problem and acknowledged in November (video: 12:00:20) that two thirds of the 700 chemicals it has investigated break important aspects of the EU’s key chemical safety regulation REACH. Some are calling it ‘the dieselgate of the chemical industry’ (video: from 22:01:16).

Today, Germany’s largest environmental charity BUND, a member of the European Environmental Bureau, revealed some of the chemicals, companies and sectors implicated. It used freedom of information rules to obtain details of a German government investigation into chemical safety files from 2014 which concluded that 940 substances did not meet REACH data safety standards. Transparency barriers blocked BUND from verifying whether most of the chemicals remain non-compliant today. But 41 substance dossiers were unchanged from 2014 to 13 April 2019, the date BUND concluded its analysis, therefore:

  • 654 separate companies are identified in the 41 dossiers and, according to the German investigation, are breaking the law. Germany has most company infringements identified, 169, while the United Kingdom has 80, The Netherlands 68, France 56, Italy 49, Spain 42 and Belgium 38. Firms across all EU member states are found, except Malta and Latvia.
  • Five of the global top 10 chemical companies by sales are implicated: BASF, Dow Chemical, SABIC, Ineos, ExxonMobil. Others include 3M, Henkel, Sigma-Aldrich, Solvay, Du Pont, Clariant, Thermo Fisher.
  • Some are responsible for past scandals, including Bayer (glyphosate), Dow Chemical (Bhopal) and Chemours (GenX).
  • Other well-known companies include Michelin, BP and Endesa.
  • Makers of sensitive products include cosmetics giant L’Oréal, food and drink firm DSM, and medicine maker Merck. Others make environment or health claims in their name or websites, including Sustainability Support Services, Health & Beauty Continental Europe, Ecolab, Superdrug Stores, EcoMundo, ECO-RIGEN, VERBIO Diesel Bitterfeld.
  • The REACH registration rule (REACH Title II) obliges companies marketing substances to complete safety tests. The rule is not working.
  • ECHA refuses to clearly identify non-compliant substance dossiers or firms, despite multiple requests by NGOs and parliamentarians (video: 22:03, 22:04, 22:07). Tens of thousands of downstream manufacturers are using chemicals with unproven safety. Workers might be at risk.

Between 12 and 121 million tonnes of the 41 chemicals are used in Europe annually. Some are widely found in industrial and consumer products, including toys or food contact products. They include:

Dibutyl phthalate
Uses: plasticiser used in flooring, furniture, toys, construction materials, curtains, footwear, leather, paper and cardboard products and electronic equipment.
Tonnage: 1,000 – 10,000 tonnes per year
Known hazardous properties: may harm unborn children; suspected of reducing fertility; highly toxic to aquatic life.
Formal hazard identification by companies: Missing or incomplete

Methyl acetate
Uses: coating products, adhesives and sealants, cosmetics and personal care products, washing and cleaning products.
Tonnage: 100,000 – 1,000,000 tonnes per year
Known hazardous properties: causes serious eye irritation; may cause drowsiness or dizziness.
Formal hazard identification by companies: Missing or incomplete

Uses: mainly industrial
Tonnage: 10,000 – 100,000 tonnes per year
Known hazardous properties: causes skin irritation and serious eye irritation; is suspected of causing genetic defects; may cause drowsiness or dizziness; may cause cancer; is harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects.
Formal hazard identification by companies: Missing or incomplete

Daily exposure to a mix of toxic substances is fuelling growing rates of cancer, reproductive disorders, metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and neurodevelopmental damage among other health problems. Chemicals of concern are ubiquitous in food, water, products, our homes, workplaces and are found in even the most remote environments. They enter our bodies mostly by ingestion, but also through the skin and lungs, typically via dust and vapour. Over 300 industrial chemicals are found in humans today that were not present in our grandparents. Babies are described as born “pre-polluted”.

Tip of the iceberg

The true scale of the problem may be much larger, but transparency barriers prevented BUND verifying the compliance status of around 700 of the 940 chemicals identified in the German investigation or the identity of more than 5,000 out of nearly 7,000 responsible companies. Precise numbers were impossible to obtain due to duplicates, typos and 124 cases where the company names are marked as “confidential”.

The investigation commissioned by the German Environmental Agency and conducted by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) checked all 1,814 “high volume” substances, used above 1,000 tonnes per year, registered by companies with ECHA by March 2014. Officials focused specifically on tests into possible threats of “highest significance for human health and environment”, including carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, persistence, bioaccumulation, reproductive and developmental toxicity. The mandatory test results underpin any EU regulatory measures, which can include bans or restrictions.

The German officials announced in 2015 that only 1 out of 1,814 substance dossiers fulfilled all test requirements and was legally compliant. The finding triggered BUND’s freedom of information request. The final study in 2018 did not report on binary compliance, pass or fail, but on the availability of the various test results. The German officials announced that, on average, 32% of mandatory tests were missing, while 37% were “complex”, meaning too hard to judge. They established that ECHA has historically failed to apply the ‘no data, no market’ rule (REACH Article 5), a completeness check applied prior to market authorisation, allowing chemicals with missing safety data onto the market in high volumes.

In March 2018, BfR finally identified for BUND the 940 chemicals that it had “assessed as non-compliant”, but refused to name any of the nearly 7,000 companies involved, citing commercial confidentiality. A ‘lead registrant’ company files for permission to use a chemical and alone is responsible for adding safety test results on behalf of any consortium of firms. Since ECHA refuses to publish the nature of any updates and in most cases the identity of the lead registrant, BUND was blocked from confirming the status of all but 41 substances. These were the chemical dossiers not updated by the lead registrant in any way since the BfR data pull in 2014. Though the lead registrant registers safety data, all firms that are part of a dossier are responsible for non-compliance.

ECHA has long known about safety data gaps. A 10 year review of 2,000 chemical dossiers covering 700 substances found that 70% had missing safety data. Its latest annual report found “important safety information is missing” for 71% of substances. ECHA alone grants market access to chemicals and alone has the power to revoke it. Of the around 95,000 chemical dossiers registered in Europe so far, ECHA has revoked just 3 for having safety data gaps since it was established in 2007. It alone determines legal compliance, but does not clearly publish compliance status, making it difficult for downstream companies to assess risks and to other third parties, including the general public to scrutinise the information, contribute to decision-making and ultimately make informed consumption and investment choices.

National officials run a rolling programme to test several hundred priority chemicals and find half are dangerous in current commercial use and likely causing serious illnesses and/or environmental pollution. Action is needed, they conclude, but authorities at both national and EU level have failed to yet take action in three quarters of cases. National authorities are legally responsible for enforcing REACH, can fine firms or even shut them down in serious cases, such as where people are at risk. Despite REACH warning that non-compliance “can result in damage to human health and the environment” (REACH, recital 122), soft sanctions prevail, usually verbal or written advice. Tougher Nordic countries see higher compliance.

The chemical industry is worth €500 billion a year in Europe and is controlled by some of the richest and most powerful individuals. It claimssafety is a priority, but complains about the costs of safety tests. A single registration costs industry around €80,000, while REACH saves taxpayers €50 billion in healthcare costs and a further €50 billion in environmental costs, according to the European Commission. The benefits “dwarf” the costs, it says (video: 3:34).

Looking ahead

BUND chemicals policy officer Manuel Fernandez said: “Chemical companies have been disregarding the law for years and getting away with it, selling substances that might cause hormonal cancers, brain disorders and other severe health problems. As consumers, we are kept in the dark, not knowing if everyday products are safe or not. What we do know is that EU and national authorities need to raise their game in a big way.”

EEB chemicals policy manager Tatiana Santos said: “This should worry investors and downstream companies as much as citizens. Thousands are handling substances that could cause them major brand or financial problems. ECHA has sat on this problem for years. We see the agency moving in the right direction, but why all the secrecy? The very foundation of EU chemical safety rules are being ignored. BUND revealed the tip of the iceberg; now it is on ECHA to tell us the rest. We have a right to know if chemicals are safe or not. REACH is the best, most ambitious chemical regulation in the world and one that made us proud to be Europeans when it was first created. But that counts for little if it is not taken seriously.”

The NGOs want ECHA to clearly identify all non-compliant substance dossiers and responsible firms in its main database. ECHA should retrospectively check non-compliant dossiers identified by BfR for completeness, as well as improve, increase and speed up its compliance checks. National authorities should increase transparency and impose tougher sanctions, including fines, name and shame or criminal proceedings without delay, they said.

Ms Santos will confront regulators and industry representatives tomorrow when she speaks at a chemical safety conference. She will raise the topics of compliance and public trust.

Approved by legal specialists

Read more on the chemicals dieselgate on the EEB’s META magazine!

Plastic is a part of the global climate crisis hiding in plain sight

By Rossella Recupero, Zero Waste Europe. Originally published by Zero Waste Europe

Plastic has made the headlines over the last couple of years as a key environmental challenge, but did you know that the plastic pollution crisis that overwhelms our lands and oceans is also a significant threat to the Earth’s climate?

Almost every single piece of plastic begins as a fossil fuel, and greenhouse gases are emitted at each of the stages of plastics lifecycle: from extraction and transport of fossil fuels, to manufacture and production, to waste processing and beyond.

In 2019, the production and incineration of plastics will add an estimated 859 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere, and with the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, plastic might be responsible for the emission of over 56 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. This massive and rapid expansion in GHG from petrochemical and plastics production threatens the achievement of the EU net zero emissions goal by 2050.  

Indeed, in November 2018, the European Commission presented the new EU 2050 – long term climate strategy for a prosperous and climate-neutral economystating that the EU should reach net 0% greenhouse emissions by 2050. Even though the strategy identifies plastic as part of the current environmental crisis, the different paths implemented to reach this ambitious goal are still under discussion, and they often lack proper consideration how each stage of the plastics lifecycle affects the environment, the climate, and human health.

To address this urgent issue, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) released today an extensive report analysing how each stage of the plastics lifecycle affects the climate and identifying the major sources of GHG emissions, sources of uncounted emissions, and uncertainties that can lead to underestimations.

Particularly, the report analyses how various techniques used to manage plastic waste contribute differently to plastic’s GHG emissions profile. Plastic is landfilled, recycled, or incinerated. Landfilling emits the least greenhouse gases on an absolute level, although it presents significant other risks. Recycling has a moderate emissions profile, but it displaces new virgin plastic on the market, while incineration leads to extremely high emissions.

As mentioned, the end of life of plastics does not mean end of their impact. While manufacturers are claiming that incineration could represent a solution to reduce plastic pollution without raising the level of toxic emission, CIEL’s report clearly reveals that incineration leads to remarkably high GHG emissions, and is the primary driver of emissions from plastic waste management. Indeed, according to the report, net greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the incineration of plastic packaging are estimated to be 16 million metric tons in 2015.

Finally, both chemical recycling and waste-to-energy initiatives that turn waste plastics into new petrochemical feedstocks or burn them as fuels could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously increasing toxic exposures for communities near incinerators. Such operations transfer the threat of plastic from the oceans to the air, while compounding its climate impacts. This is the very definition of a false solution.

Moreover, the report warns that also other disposal methods such as plastics to fuels could have a significant impact in terms of GHG emissions.  As highlighted by Zero Waste Europe’s joint briefing with Bellonathere are major concerns regarding the production of fuels from non-renewable waste streams – such as plastic –  as they could have harmful effects on both climate change mitigation and circular economy measures. Accordingly, it is important that the European Commission develops a legislative framework that excludes the use of plastics waste fuels, as they don’t represent a possible solution either to the climate crisis nor the plastic pollution issue, while they actually risk to exacerbate both.

Fortunately, burning our waste – and especially plastics components –  is not the only path forward, and the Zero Waste approach is gaining traction. Indeed, the report also includes a set of recommendations for policymakers and other stakeholders to help stop these runaway carbon emissions hidden in the plastic lifecycle, and to support a Zero Waste systemic approach to waste prevention and reduction.

Ultimately, any solution that reduces plastic production and use is a strong strategy for addressing the climate impacts of the plastic lifecycle. These solutions require urgent support by policymakers and philanthropic funders and action by global grassroots movements. Nothing short of stopping the expansion of petrochemical and plastic production and keeping fossil fuels in the ground will create the surest and most effective reductions in the climate impacts from the plastic lifecycle.

Overall, the key findings of the report are clear: plastic threatens the climate on a global scale, and burning it could only exacerbate the problem. To stop the climate impact of plastic, urgent and ambitious action is necessary. Therefore, Zero Waste Europe urges to focus on waste management solutions at the top of the waste hierarchy. The strategies with the greatest potential for reducing both climate and environmental risks of plastics include: setting a range of EU-wide waste prevention policies to end the production and use of single-use disposable plastic, supporting new waste-free business models, and fostering the transition to a fully circular economy.

Time for the EU to get major on microplastic pollution and clamp down on “mermaid tears”

Magical and mysterious creatures of the ocean, mermaids are celebrated by enthusiasts on International Mermaid Day on the 29th of March. Unfortunately, there’s nothing magical about mermaid tears – another name for the tiny plastic pellets or “nurdles” that come in an array of colours and have been found polluting marine environments all around the world.

Every day, billions of these tiny plastic pellets are melted down and used to manufacture plastic products. They escape into waterways when spills occur, which happens at all stages along the supply chain during production, transport or conversion. Less conspicuous than plastic bags, mermaid tears have slipped under the radar of growing public concern about marine plastic pollution – despite being the second largest source of microplastic marine pollution in Europe.

According to a recent analysis, up to 167,431 tonnes of these pellets may be entering the ocean from European industries each year. There are also high-impact accidents, such as in 2017 when 2,000km of South Africa’s coastline was coated with pellets following the collision of two vessels. 49 tonnes of pellets ended up in the sea, an eye-watering 3.4 billion individual pieces.

Once the pellets escape into the marine environment, their small size makes them impossible to clean up. They act like magnets for dangerous chemicals and toxins, which are then likely to transfer into the food chain if consumed by marine life. 180 marine species have been found to ingest the pellets, which are easily mistaken for food. They can cause internal harm and impair an animal’s ability to breath, swallow, and digest food; risking malnutrition and starvation. Most recently, scientists have demonstrated that dangerous pathogens can “hitchhike” on mermaids tears, travelling vast distances across the ocean.

To stop these dangerous pellets from entering the ocean, all companies involved in making, using or transporting them need to commit to robust measures to prevent pellet loss through all stages of the supply chain. Operation Clean Sweep is an industry-led voluntary scheme which provides a toolkit of best practices to stop spillages. However, the scheme lacks monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and its voluntary nature means that most companies currently do not have any measures in place at all.

A tough legislative approach is therefore required that mandates best practice along the plastic supply chain, with transparent monitoring and enforcement to ensure implementation. Companies must be able to provide evidence that everything possible has been done to prevent spillages in the handling of pellets at each stage of production, right through to when the finished product lands on the retailer’s shelf.

In 2018, the European Commission committed to put in place measures to reduce plastic pellet losses through the Plastic Strategy, considering options including a certification scheme along the plastic supply chain and/or developing a Best Available Techniques reference document under the Industrial Emissions Directive. Following in-depth review, the option to adopt a certification scheme along the plastic supply chain — referred to as the supply-chain approach — proved far superior in terms of environmental performance and cost effectiveness. The Rethink Plastic alliance is urging the upcoming Commission to fulfill this commitment to address this major source of marine microplastic pollution by submitting a legislative proposal to the European Parliament and the Council early in its tenure.

The world is finally waking up to the scale of the problem, with global governments recently being invited to prevent losses of pellets into the environment across the supply chain in a resolution adopted earlier this month at the United Nations Environment Assembly. Recent meetings under the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (or OSPAR Convention) have taken us another step closer towards applying a supply-chain approach.

What is needed now is global leadership from the European Commission, setting the level of ambition high with a legislative proposal to mandate a supply-chain approach to prevent any more mermaid tears from poisoning the sea.

Tyred of microplastics releases?

Vehicle tyres are not only made of rubber. They are a complex blend of many materials and chemicals, including different types of plastic[1]. Kilometre after kilometre, tyres gradually shed tiny bits of material when they interact with the road surface, leading to fine particle emission into the air, but also microplastics pollution of surface waters due to road run-off.

Tyres are the main contributor of unintentional microplastics release into the environment, leading to 250,000 to 500,000 tons of microplastics pollution every year in the EU.[2] [3]

The impact of microplastics

Microplastics from tyres include a number of chemicals, some of which carcinogen, mutagens and endocrine disruptors, which can easily leach into the environment. Small plastic particles from tyre wear can also enter wildlife and human bodies through ingestion and inhalation and have been associated with considerable negative health impacts[4].

A more visible tyre label

All tyres sold in Europe need to display a label similar to the one we find on domestic appliances. This label guides consumer purchasing decisions in terms of rolling resistance, wet grip, sound, etc. It still does not, however, contain information on tyre resistance to wear and tear.

The label is currently under revision and a new and improved one could be adopted next year. The proposal aims at making the label and the information it communicates much more visible.

European Commission has laid down the strategy          
Reports and articles unanimously suggest labelling of tyre abrasion as a powerful and cost-efficient tool to prevent plastic pollution at source.

In its Plastics Strategy, the European Commission committed to investigate policy approaches to tackle the unintentional release of microplastics from tyres. The proposal for a revised tyre label consequently suggested to add a pictogram on the performance of tyres in regard to abrasion. This is an efficient way to guide consumers towards better products on the one hand, and of encouraging innovation on the other. A handy reference to the need for a harmonised test method to measure tyre tread abrasion was also part of the proposal.

The ball is now in Parliament’s court

Following the usual procedure, Member States and the Parliament are now discussing the proposal. Unfortunately, most Member States seem ready to put a curb on the Commission’s enthusiasm and delay the decision for about 10 years. And despite their apparent will to fight plastic pollution, MEPs look like they want to weaken the Commission’s proposal too. The current text now misses concrete dates for the inclusion of abrasion into the label. A vote will take place on 25 March which will set the Parliament position and the fate of the much-needed addition to the label.

Ending plastic pollution in Europe

If Europe is serious about solving the plastics issue, it needs to both tackle visible and invisible plastics pollution. Establishing a measurement method and adding an icon on the tyre label is part of the solution. And unfortunately, the Commission won’t be able to do it alone. If the institutions fail, tyres will remain the main source of unintentional microplastics emissions into the environment.

Update from the European Plenary vote on 26 March 2019: As feared, despite their will to fight plastics pollution, the European Parliament has decided to postpone this action for years.

By Ioana Popescu & Chloé Fayole, ECOS. This article has been produced by ECOS, in the context of the Rethink Plastics alliance and Coolproducts campaign.


[2] Boucher, J., & Friot, D. (2017). Primary microplastics in the oceans: a global evaluation of sources. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

[3] Hann, Simon, et al. Investigating options for reducing releases in the aquatic environment of microplastics emitted by (but not intentionally added in) products. (2017).

[4] Azoulay, D., Villa, P., Arellano, Y., Gordon, M., Moon, D., Miller, K., Thompson, K. (2019) Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet

The hidden costs of a plastic planet

A new report released by CIEL exposes the distinct toxic risks plastic poses to human health at every stage of the plastic lifecycle, from extraction of fossil fuels, to consumer use, to disposal and beyond.

“Despite being one of the most pervasive materials on the planet, plastic and its impact on human health remain poorly understood. Yet exposure to plastic is expanding into new areas of the environment and food chain as existing plastic products fragment into smaller particles and concentrate toxic chemicals. As plastic production increases, highlights the report, this exposure will only grow.”

Plastic-related risks to human health arise from both exposure to plastic particles themselves and associated chemicals. Each stage of plastic production, use and disposal – from the extraction and transportation of fossil feedstocks, to the refining and production of plastic resins and additives, to consumer products and packaging, to plastic waste management, and notably incineration, to the fragmentation into microplastics, the degradation and the contamination of our food chain – involves the leakage of potentially harmful substances into the natural environment and the human body.

Therefore, understanding the full scope of the toxic impacts of plastics on human health requires a lifecycle approach. Likewise, reducing toxic exposure to plastics that have a toxic impact will require a holistic approach, as well as a focus on prevention.

The report also highlights how uncertainties and knowledge gaps often hinder regulation and the ability of consumers, communities, and policymakers to make informed decisions about plastics. However, the full scale of health impacts throughout its lifecycle are overwhelming and warrant a precautionary approach.

Today, the European Union has an unprecedented political opportunity to tackle the impacts of plastics on human health through regulatory measures, in the context of the interface between chemicals, product and waste legislation, proposed by the European Commission to harmonise the regulation across policy areas and prevent substances from hampering the circularity and safety of materials intended to undergo several loops.

Seizing this opportunity will allow to develop more consistent legislations to guarantee safety and sustainability of plastics products. Notably, as addressed by Rethink Plastic’s position paper on the interface:

  • – The toxicity of plastics must be taken into consideration from the design stage, and along the whole lifecycle of the material;
  • – The inclusion of substances of concern in plastics must be prevented, and the traceability of those substances must be ensured;
  • – Traceability of substances must be supported as it permits the identification and localisation of substances that might hamper circularity; tracing substances later mitigates the problems of toxic recycling by enabling their identification and potential removal where possible.
  • – Derogations enabling higher concentration of substances of concern in recycled plastics for the sake of circularity should not be perpetuated.
  • – It is also essential to account for the toxicity of plastics at the waste classification phase and to update current legislations to address the concerns raised in the CIEL’s report.

The safety and the reputation of the circular economy are at stake.  

Read the full report

Adéu single-use plastics

By Roberta Arbinolo

While the European Parliament is preparing to rubberstamp the EU directive to slash single-use plastics,  the Balearic islands haven’t been sitting on their hands and are actually one step ahead: their pioneer new law on Waste and Polluted Soil is a major achievement in the fight against plastic pollution, and sets the example in the Mediterranean and beyond.

The new law, approved by the Balearic Parliament end of January, introduces concrete measures and targets for waste reduction, with a particular attention to single-use plastic products. Notably, the distribution of single use bags, cutlery, plates, straws, cotton bud and sweets sticks will be prohibited across the islands, and so will be the sale of products containing microplastics or nanoplastics, and of  non-rechargeable and non-reusable lighters, shavers, printer toners and cartridges.

According to Rosa Garcia, Director of Zero Waste Europe’s and Break Free From Plastic’s member Rezero, “the Balearic Law represents a major step towards the abandonment of the use and throw-away culture which the current production model has brought us over the last decades.”

As Rezero rightly points out, there is no other law at the international level which commits so firmly to waste prevention and to finish with the indiscriminate proliferation of single-use products.

On top of the bans, the new law strengthens  Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, by requiring more transparency about the products placed on the market, their waste generation and  management, and holding packaging producers responsible to fully cover waste collection and management costs. It also creates a framework for deposit return systems for specific products, such as beverage containers, to favour the recuperation of high quality materials and prevent leakages into the environment.

Besides, the law shows a remarkable commitment to boost reuse. For example, reusable packaging is incentivised through the installation of water fountains and the inclusion of waste prevention criteria in public procurement.  Moreover,  a plan to promote reusable containers developed by Rezero for the Balearic Government may allow to prevent more than 30,000 tones of packaging waste.

Thanks to these forward-looking provisions, the Balearic law goes beyond what required by the EU directive to reduce single-use plastics, setting the example for successful implementation at the national and local level. As a matter of fact, Majorca is proving that regions and countries all across Europe can raise the ambition for single-use plastic prevention, and engage in a race to the top towards a future free from plastic pollution.

Plastic-free period:
¡Vulva la Revolución!

Sit down here. Right now, tell me what you know about Menstruation. 

Arms by my sides, I felt too uncomfortable to sit down…

Earlier that week, I’d been invited to visually record a workshop in Brussels for Zero Waste Europe and Rethink Plastic. They were gathering together a whole bunch of women from various organisations to re-think plastic usage in menstrual products. And so I began a journey to lands hitherto unknown. A land far outside my comfort zone.

I say unknown, and if you’re a menstruator, you may already be rolling your eyes at me. Quite right! – how can it be that a large proportion of the planet’s population are affected by a monthly cycle (in different ways, depending on wealth, culture, bodies…) and yet until recently, I’ve never had a single open conversation about it with a woman. To make matters worse, I have no idea what other men know, because we don’t talk about it either.

And so to help me, my wife of nearly 20 years very gently asked me to explain to her how menstruation works. An impromptu test. I thought about the strategies my children deploy: cause a distraction; change the subject; slowly back out of the room… But what was I avoiding anyway? I decided that this was good for me. After filling in the missing details I had fumbled my way through, we agreed my knowledge of the general facts of menstruation bordered on a C+. Could do better. The thing is, my 20-year-old self wouldn’t even have gotten an F.

A few weeks later, I was in the design thinking workshop as the only man amongst 15 very gracious women of different ages and nationalities. I’d practised drawing some mooncups, tampons and other items on the train from London – and got a few strange looks from those who had glanced over my shoulder at what I was drawing.

I now know that plastic (and chemical) usage in period products is a complex issue. The profit-driven manufacturers, the ignorant taxes, the taboos, the poverty, and the shame surrounding it all. Dialogue doesn’t let you down; it was a privilege to listen and create as the participants shared their experience and their insight.

But it’s the shame that surrounds this that disturbs me most. The need for codewords – riding the crimson wavethe English are invading! – the products that reinforce the shame – no-one ever needs to know! I’m trying to understand the source of it: my culture, my religion, my gender, me…

If, as a man, I think I can’t talk about this, I’ll blindly continue in my ignorance and prejudice, because I can’t see inside my own head. But it works the other way too – no dialogue means that we hold on to our shame, without seeing it for what it really is – oppression.

¡Vulva la Revolución! (a direct quote from the workshop…)


Bryan Mathers is a creative technologist and social entrepreneur. He learns through making, drawing, and remixing.  Follow Bryan on @BryanMMathers, and discover his work on

Plastic Free July: a wake-up call for corporations and businesses

By Delphine Lévi Alvarès

Originally published by the global movement #breakfreefromplastic

Last month, people all over the world took the opportunity to celebrate Plastic Free July –  taking selfies with reusable straws or bottles, sharing tips on how to avoid packaging by DIY beauty or cleaning products, and bringing reusable containers and cutlery when eating out.

These simple actions to cut plastic pollution have been elevated to a new dimension thanks to the recently tabled European directive “on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment”. In this legislative proposal, the European Commission lays out measures to tackle the most commonly found items found from European beaches after decades of citizen and scientific monitoring. All the most notorious items of the plastic free July are there, together with a range of measures envisaged to tackle the issues related to these products.

If you have been following #plasticfreejuly it seems quite obvious that the main solutions are often as easy as a child’s play: refuse, do it yourself, use reusable alternatives and bring refillable containers. So why do we need regulation? Because solutions are still far from being mainstream, and the reusable option is still too often unavailable or more challenging  to come by. Alternatives should be made more uniformly available, easier, and more affordable to allow for a greater number of people to be able to embrace a plastic pollution free lifestyle. Companies should stop producing problematic items, because as long as these are widely sold, they will be bought.

The Rethink Plastic alliance – the EU policy arm of the Break Free From Plastic global movement – started campaigning on the plastics issue in 2016. During this time, we called for regulation on the most polluting items and European decision makers kept telling our policy officers that “Europe cannot start regulating people’s bathrooms and kitchens” and that tackling specific items was so symbolic that it was almost ridiculous.

And still, after a year and a half of campaigning, here it is, a beacon of regulation to tackle the most problematic single use items! This is definitely a leap forward in the battle against plastic pollution. After decades of blindness and timid measures, this is a sign the European Commission is waking up to the call from the citizens of Europe, and working to ensure Europe is finally doing its part to solve this global crisis.

But is Europe’s reduction of single-use plastics and increase of recycling going to make a  global difference in plastic pollution?

The answer is yes, but it requires a deeper look. For one: It is certainly going to make a difference to the total amount of waste ending up in the environment and in particular, ocean plastic pollution. Second: The move is also a strong symbolic statement against our throwaway society, that could help mainstreaming a smarter lifestyle in Europe and spreading the message outside our borders that our current model of consumption has to change. However, European decision makers, both legislators and  business leaders, have to face the absurd reality of the double standards that European businesses are applying abroad. Whilst they appear to be on board with the idea of new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes on problematic products, they are still more inclined to point at the global South as polluters, and support false solutions such as incineration or short term actions like cleanups, than to acknowledge their responsibility in creating this pollution.

The same companies opening markets in Europe with the “Green Dot” symbol indicating  they have financially contributed to the waste collection and managements costs, simultaneously open markets in Asia without contributing to the end-of-life handling costs of these products. Furthermore, there is no Producer Responsibility Organisation (PRO) holding companies accountable for the recyclability of their packaging or products, meaning, they are putting the same product from the same brand in two different kind of packaging. For example, the same shampoo that comes in an easy to collect and recyclable 750mL bottle in Europe, is put on the Asian market in a small format, multilayered sachet which is extremely difficult to collect and even more so to recycle. These sachets are prolific in communities across Asia and the companies are not required to contribute to the costs or meet any recycling target. Companies like Unilever and Procter & Gamble have been so busy exporting our western way of consumption – with design adjustments to match the different economic realities – that the environmental impact of such packaging has been considered completely secondary.

In the process of exporting these low-value packaging overseas, they also have discovered a formidable marketing tool: sachets containing everything you can imagine (from shampoo, to soup or cleaning products) cover the shelves of any local store, with bright colours and catchy fonts, drawing the eyes and inviting the consumer whilst building “brand awareness” to an ever greater degree. The same consumer also sees these packaging everywhere on the floors, the rivers banks, the beaches and as long as they will not associated with the cause of the pollution, they become another marketing opportunity. And we could argue that it is the same with all the disposable products that EU is targeting today. The Asian and African markets are flooded with these products, and none of the producers contribute to handle their end-of-life disposal or recycling. Additionally, companies invest billions in advertising to convince people that they need their throwaway products. In a recent presentation made by the petrochemicals industry, along with millenials from Europe and US, consumers in the Asian markets are the main opportunity for business growth.

However, whilst it might still look like an opportunity today, consumption patterns are changing in these geographies. Our friends who have been opposing single-use plastics by making “Plastic Free July” their daily life for decades are not alone anymore. A vibrant and growing movement of people refusing plastic and promoting a zero waste lifestyle are  being more and more visible. Package free shops are flourishing all over Asia (see examples from MalaysiaChinaPhilippines) and groups emerge to spread these best practices (like Zero Waste Shanghai). In fact all across Asia,changemakers are working to counter mainstream images of poor Asians drowning in plastic waste. Thanks to their work and the intelligence, it is increasingly obvious that a large chunk of the plastics ending up in the ocean in Asia actually comes from the Western world.

European and American companies find it convenient to put cheap single-use plastic products and packaging on the market, but recyclers in these regions are often unwilling to recycle this low grade, and thus low value, material. Most of the time this packaging is shipped to South East Asia where brokers sell it to family businesses who handle it in unregulated conditions. This had reached such an alarming level that China closed its borders to this category of waste (and several others) last January. This move has had concerning repercussions for the other countries in the region, to the point that Vietnam has also temporarily closed its borders to scrap plastics and Thailand has pledged to start sending plastic scrap back where it came from as part of a crackdown on illegal waste imports.

So, how will the new EU legislation on single-use plastics influence this? The proposal is being discussed in the European Parliament through the summer, and a couple of important votes will take place in October. The Council of the Environment ministers of the European Union will amend the text and is expected to handover their conclusions before the end of the year. It is critical that this process leads to the adoption of a strong legislation to reduce the use of single-use plastics in Europe and better management of plastic waste. However, it would be a missed opportunity to not use this momentum to encourage European businesses to apply the same standards here and abroad when it comes to product design. European public authorities must be incentivised to take responsibility for their plastic waste as part of a necessary self reflective activity following this zero waste motto: if you cannot reduce, reuse, or recycle it, you should not be producing it in the first place.