In practice

Preventing single-use plastic waste

TagsPlastic, Regulation, Single-use plastics

ThemesFinance, Pollution



Last updated04 June 2020

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Policy in practice

In recent years, increasing public awareness of the issue of plastics pollution has led to the implementation of numerous waste prevention policies across the world. The complexity of the plastics value chain calls for the application of multiple policy instruments to address all the environmental externalities emerging across the life-cycle, including regulatory instruments such as product bans.

Belgium provides an example of such a ban and the range of actions put in place to support its implementation. Starting in 2020, organisers of events in the region of Flanders, Belgium, will no longer be allowed to offer disposable cups for beverages, unless over 90% of them can be separately collected for recycling. This policy initiative has been motivated by a study assessing the aggregate environmental footprint of different drinkware and tableware options for events (cups, mugs, glasses, plates, bowls and cutlery), considering different material and disposal options.

Drawing upon 22 life-cycle analyses, the study presents evidence that reusable tableware products always deliver a lower environmental footprint relative to single-use ones; for drinkware, the only single-use option with a comparable environmental footprint to reusable ones is using recycled PET cups. Building on this set of evidence, a handbook and an online tool addressing event organisers have been developed to explain the rationale of the policy initiative and to support and simplify product choice considering specific needs and contextual features. A similar measure has been put in place within public institutions: starting in 2020 and 2022, disposable packaging (in plastic, glass, paper) can no longer be used respectively to serve drinks and prepared foods.

Key policy message

Regulatory instruments such as product bans aimed at preventing single-use plastics can reduce the generation of plastic waste and its leakage into the environment.