Berlin - Straws, coffee cups, polystyrene boxes -a slew of single-use plastic products are to become a thing of the past come Saturday. Approved by the federal cabinet last summer, the ordinance brings Germany into compliance with the 2019 EU directive "on reducing the impact of certain plastic products on the environment". Saturday, 3 July is the deadline for member states to translate the directive into national law.

The regulation sees a two-stage phase-out. In the first stage, which starts Saturday, manufacturers can no longer produce disposable plastic products, such as cutlery, stirrers, plates, balloon sticks and cotton buds. Styrofoam cups and food containers will also be also banned. Restaurants and shops are still allowed to use up their supplies, though.

Plastic waste makes up 70 per cent of marine pollution

In the second stage, manufacturers will be obliged to label products with info on their environmental impact and correct disposal methods. 

According to BUND Friends of the Earth Germany, plastic waste accounts for over 70 per cent of pollution in the oceans. Plastics negatively affect biodiversity and the conventional incineration of plastic waste, which releases large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributes to global climate change.

According to the Germany's environment agency, almost 19m tonnes of packaging waste were produced in Germany in 2018 - an all-time high that is likely to have increased during the corona crisis given the growth in food delivery services. The recycling consortium Der Grüne Punkt reported last June that packaging waste from private households had risen by 10 per cent since the onset of the pandemic.

Bio-plastics also banned

The EU plastic ban applies to products for which less environmentally harmful alternatives already exist. For example, edible drinking straws, paper cups or disposable tableware made from palm leaves or sugar cane.

But not all alternatives are welcomed by environmental and consumer associations. Paper production is detrimental to forests, and more energy is consumed in the production of reusable aluminium products. According to the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, some alternative products contain substances that are harmful to health, such as pesticide residues and chemicals.

Even bio-plastics aren't always a sound alternative. Although they are usually produced without the use of petroleum, they don't actually compost well. Hence, the ban also applies to products made of bio-plastics and to products with a low proportion of plastic - such as plastic-coated paper tableware.

Thomas Fischer of the environmental NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe says that one should expect "that even after the deadline for the ban on single-use plastic tableware, such single-use goods will continue to be on offer. The longer the single-use plastic ban is in force, the more sceptical one should see the availability of such single-use articles. Because the last warehouse will probably be empty after about a year."

More Berlin news in English.