Packaging firms continue cup label fight

Seven packaging manufacturers have joined forces to challenge new EU labelling laws for single-use cups.

PACCOR, Flo, Dopla, ILIP, Aristea, Dart, and Intraplas said the marking specifications established by the European Commission under its single-use plastics directive are “unnecessary and unsuitable to achieve the aim of the SuPD”. The group wants foodservice companies, retailers and brands to take note of the “impact that the markings can also have on their operations”.

In a statement they argue that cups fall way down the list (35th) of littered items most commonly found on beaches (tackling such plastic pollution is one of the principal aims of the laws). They also claim the labels – which include a picture of a turtle with a cup floating above and below the words ‘plastic in product’ (for plastic-lined cups) or ‘made of plastic’ (for those made entirely from plastic) – will “mislead consumers”.

So, they want article 7 of the SuPD, which relates to the labels, to be reconsidered “because beverage cups are arguably unlawfully added to the products made subject to marking obligations”. 

Companies operating in the EU will still have to apply the labels by July 3rd 2021. The rules apply in Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Protocol which was amended to include certain articles of the SuPD – though the deadline is January 1st 2022.

They will also “seek to push the Commission to reconsider the markings now imposed for beverage cups in order to have justified and appropriate other, better, measures in place, and actions taken, to effectively encourage the recycling and [recovery] of beverage cups partially and wholly made of plastic and to reduce marine littering of single use plastic products”.

However, there is little detail on exactly what actions might be better to ensure fewer cups are littered and far more are recycled.

It isn’t clear whether Scotland, England and Wales will follow the EU’s lead with a law to mark cups in the same way. Scotland and Wales are keen to align with the ambitions of the SuPD, having made moves already to ban certain items.

What outcome a label with a turtle and the words ‘plastic in product’ is meant to achieve is certainly unclear. It says nothing about what to do with the cup (other than not to chuck it in the sea). A mandatory ‘recyclable/not recyclable’ label as part of extended producer responsibility plans might help, but this needs to coincide with (heavy) investment in on-the-go recycling infrastructure too. 

OPRL last year introduced new ‘specialist’ labels for coffee cups to help people recycle them. Only 6% of cups are thought to be recycled currently but plans are afoot to drive this towards 40%.

Disposable cups have their own chapter in the UK government’s recent proposals for EPR. The government wants to introduce a mandatory takeback scheme for disposable cups. Industry seems to like the idea.

There are challenges ahead, though. The early debate is around how many cups are actually used. Poor reporting and limited data don’t help in setting the recycling targets due in 2025. How many cups will be landfilled or incinerated in the interim?

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