What is on the horizon for plastic waste management rules in 2021

Plastic waste management is receiving plenty of attention. New bans and labeling rules are popping up around the globe. Do you know what’s ahead ?

Jessica Sarnowski

by Jessica Sarnowski

Regulatory action is being taken on a global scale to help manage plastic waste. Regulation comes in many forms, such as outright bans on plastic imports, restrictions on chemicals used in plastic products and labeling rules. What follows is a summary of recent regulatory requirements across the globe.

Plastic waste management rules: bans on importation

One rather contentious international issue is where plastic should be disposed of. Certain countries in Asia-Pacific are banning the importation of plastic waste and thus, there is a dilemma that will come to a head in 2021 as to where plastic waste should go.

For instance, the following rules are in effect and will continue to impact business operations in 2021:

  • As of July 2017, non-industrial plastic waste, including waste from household sources, is banned from being imported into China. The plastic waste from the industrial sources, which is generated as a by-product of the manufacturing or heating process, can only be imported as raw material with certain restrictions.
  • As of August 2018, factories are no longer allowed to import plastic scraps into Thailand. There are no exceptions to this rule (as there once were). In addition, that October, Thailand announced a plan to limit the quantity of imported plastic scraps to 70,000 tons per year starting from 2019 to the end of 2021. As of 2021 plastic scraps must only come from sources within Thailand.
  • As of October 2018, companies importing plastic waste into Taiwan must ensure that the materials meet quality criteria, comes from legal sources (companies with registered license) and are not classified as medical waste. This applies to waste that will be used as industrial raw material.

Internationally, the Basel Convention will introduce, on January 1, 2021, a new scope of plastic waste that is subject to the Prior Informed Consent procedure for its parties. Countries ratifying the Convention can expect that the transboundary shipment of plastic waste will become a highlight within domestic legislation.

Plastic waste management rules: bans on chemicals in plastic

One extremely relatable ban on chemicals in plastics is the regulation of bisphenol A (BPA). This ban affects consumer purchases greatly and also reminds consumers that what you drink out of a plastic container could, in fact, harm you.

Many restrictions on BPA are effective today and will continue to impact businesses moving forward in 2021:

  • European Union (EU)- wide
    • In 2016, BPA was reclassified as reprotoxic category 1B, from reprotoxic category 2 under the Classification, Labeling, and Packaging (CLP) regulation and its use in thermal paper was restricted.
    • In 2017, the limits for the release of BPA in toys for young children, or other toys that are intended to be placed in the mouth, was strengthened 2.5-fold – from 0.1 mg/L to 0.04 mg/L – and, in February 2018, a new piece of legislation was published to expand the existing law on Food Contact Material (FCM) that strengthened the BPA migration limit by 12-fold, from 0.6 mg/kg to 0.05 mg/kg.
  • Belgium and Denmark
    • Ban BPA in FCM intended for young children
  • France
    • Bans BPA in baby bottles, teethers, collar shields in soothers and FCM
  • Austria
    • Bans BPA in pacifiers and teethers
  • Sweden
    • Bans BPA in paints and coatings in food packaging for children 0-3 years old

BPA isn’t the only chemical banned widely. The EU will also ban the use of oxo-biodegradable plastics. as of 3 July 2021. Oxo-biodegradable plastic is made by blending a pro-degradant additive into the plastic during the extrusion process. The additive causes the molecular structure of the plastic to break down when exposed to heat or sunlight. Although they break down into smaller pieces, these plastics don’t disintegrate. Similar bans are being proposed in other countries such as Australia and Ukraine.

In addition to these chemical-specific bans, many countries are banning single-use plastics and plastic bags. Although we do not address these topics in these blogs, you can find more in our web-series linked at the end of this article.

Plastic waste management rules: labeling rules for plastic packaging

Another regulatory option, other than a full or partial ban on plastic products or their ingredients, is to instill labeling rules. Some industrial or international standards provide a voluntary-based framework for affixing labels on plastic packaging and containers, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Resin Identification Code.

  • In the United States, federal law does not require the use of codes, such as the Society of Plastic Industry (SPI) codes, to be affixed on plastic packaging. However, states are taking a lead, with the majority of states (39) adopting legislation to mandate the use of the codes on plastic packaging or specific plastic containers.
    • California passed the Plastic Products law to require plastic products to be labeled with the terms “compostable,” “home compostable” or “marine degradable” as per specific standards and this law also prohibits the sale of plastic products labeled with the terms “biodegradable,” “degradable,” or decomposable,” etc., or sold with the implication that the plastic product will break down, fragment, biodegrade, or decompose in a landfill or other environment, except in compliance with labeling requirements.
  • In South Korea, manufacturers and importers must give plastic packaging materials a grade level pursuant to legislation.
  • In Japan, placing proper labels on plastic packaging is part of the producers’ extended responsibility and the circular economy scheme.
  • In Brazil, proposed legislation would require producers to include the length of time that the product’s packaging will take to decompose (including the length of time for the decomposition of plastic packaging) in the label.

Thus, there are many ways to protect consumers (and the environment) from the harms of plastic packaging and one way is to place restrictions on labeling.

Plastic waste will need to be managed for a long time

Although countries around the globe are doing their best to control the production and disposal of plastic waste, it is apparent that plastic will be a part of our lives for many years to come. Manufacturers, importers and producers should keep track of the evolving requirements as countries wrestle with how to control the production of plastics through bans and the distribution through labeling. Many requirements are fairly new, within the last few years, with effective dates in 2021.

The best way to stay up to date is to know the following:

  • Where you fit within the production scheme of plastics/what role you play (are you the producer of plastic? The manufacturer of a plastic product? The importer of plastic material?)
  • What chemicals are involved in your processes (e.g., is BPA a part of the end product? Who is the consumer?)
  • What you can do to adjust your business process and strategy to account for an increase in the awareness of the dangers of plastic and requirements for production and use.

Are you looking for general guidance on bans and restrictions on plastics?

Whether you are looking for general guidance on bans and restrictions or key insights on upcoming legislation changes on plastics, our web series is sure to provide you with helpful resources.

Watch now

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