Single-use plastics pollution: where do Europe and Portugal stand?

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July 3, 2021 was the deadline for EU Member States to transpose the Single Use Plastics Directive. But how is the implementation of this directive going? The Rethink Plastic alliance, the Break Free From Plastic movement and Seas at Risk – of which Sciaena is a part – have released two reports and an interactive map intended to help answer this question. The answer? More ambition is urgently needed.

The Single Use Plastic Implementation Assessment differentiates between top performers (highlighted in green) and Member States lagging behind (in orange and red) in implementing the mandatory EU measures to curb plastic pollution. Estonia, France, Greece, and Sweden are examples of countries on a strong track for the implementation of the Directive, while Bulgaria and Poland are just some of many Member States which need to urgently scale up their efforts. While the level of ambition varies significantly across EU Member States, it remains overall insufficient to ensure Europe actually moves away from single-use and towards a circular economy.

The Seas at Risk Best Practices report and interactive multilingual map, link EU policy measures with effective and concrete solutions, offering over 150 best practices to reduce and phase out single use plastics. The provided solutions have already proved to be effective, easy to replicate in other regions or to develop on a wider scale. They aim to encourage public authorities, businesses, schools, local communities and consumers to reduce single-use plastics and support Member states in implementing the Directive and go beyond.

To curb plastic pollution, the EU adopted in 2019 the Single-Use Plastics Directive that requires EU countries to implement a number of measures including: banning several single-use plastic items, including plates, straws and cutlery, by 3 July 2021; putting in place extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes and single-use plastics marking requirements; adopting measures to achieve consumption reduction for single-use plastic cups and food containers; and by 2029, achieving 90% separate collection on single-use plastic bottles. Based on the assessment of European and national NGOs, the first report released today reveals the performance of all EU Member States plus Norway in transposing the Single-Use Plastics Directive into their national law.



And how is Portugal according to these assessments? It’s at an orange level, which means we’ll have to improve our performance quickly to correctly implement the SUPD.

Positive developments

Regarding the consumption reduction for single-use plastic cups and food containers, Portugal has established the target of 30% reduction until 31 December 2026 (compared to 2022 data) and 50% reduction until the 31st of December 2030 (compared to 2022 data) of the number of units placed on the market.

In addition, from January 2024 all plates, forks, glasses must be reusable for on-site consumption in restaurants and all restaurants that provide single-use packaging for take away, must also provide reusable alternatives with a DRS.

Regarding the separate collection of single-use plastics, Portugal will have a DRS system for one way packaging from 2023 onwards. There will be some reusable targets for beverage packaging, but they are not set yet and the industry will be responsible for defining them.

On the marking and design requirements, the Portuguese draft has stuck with the provisions established under the SUPD.

Regarding awareness raising requirements, the draft foresees awareness on reusable alternatives and good waste management practices; the environmental impact resulting from littering, impacts in sewage systems.

Main issues

On the market restriction measures there is a derogation for plates, forks, straws and coffee agitators until September 2022 for retailers and until September 2021 for non sedentary activities and public transportation.

Missing measures

EPR measures are not foreseen in the current Portuguese draft.

National process

Currently, Portugal is in the process of limited consultation (in the context of the Portuguese Plastics Pact), but a wider public consultation is foreseen before the approval of the final text.


Gaëlle Haut, EU affairs project manager at Surfrider Europe said: “The effective and complete transposition of the Single-Use Plastic Directive is still missing in many EU countries. The measures laid down in the Directive are minimum requirements to be achieved and built upon. To achieve the 50% reduction target of plastic litter at sea, it’s urgent all these measures are transposed and enforced. Best performing States are showing that, with political will, great ambition and timely transposition can go hand in hand”.

Larissa Copello, Consumption and Production Campaigner at Zero Waste Europe added: “Half-hearted measures, such as material substitution or cosmetic legislative change, will not allow to achieve a truly circular economy across Europe. It is urgent to redesign both products and distribution systems, and decision-makers can drive this systemic change by adopting a combination of measures such as consumption reduction targets, reuse quotas, harmonised packaging formats and deposit return schemes. 

Frédérique Mongodin, Senior Marine Litter Policy Officer At Seas At Risk said: “Single-use plastic is the symbol of today’s throw-away society and phasing them out constitutes an obvious first step to fight plastic pollution. Yet we cannot rely on the sole political will of national governments. We need bold and effective actions from across society to drive a wave of change. The solutions we have collected are meant to inspire new ways of living and consuming that are more respectful of our ocean, our planet and ourselves.”

Gonçalo Carvalho, Executive Coordinator of Sciaena added: “Portugal has to adopt legislation and implement measures that are at least in line with the international commitments it assumes and the frequent speeches in which it claims to want to be a global leader in protecting the Ocean. The transposition of the Single Use Plastics Directive is a unique opportunity to do so.

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