Plastic-free period products brand Natracare has expressed its dismay at new EU labelling laws that will require the company to display a ‘contains plastic’ label on any of its products sold in the bloc.
The new labelling law is part of wide-ranging actions required under the EU Single Use Plastics Directive, which comes into force on 3 July 2021.
The new Directive forms part of a drive by the European Commission to tackle the top polluting products on Europe’s beaches, including other materials such as fishing gear, drinks cups, plastic wet wipes, and cigarette filters.
Under the new Directive, certain categories of plastic-containing products – including sanitary towels and tampons – will have to be marked (on-pack or on-product) with a label bearing ‘Plastic in Product’.
But the new Directive doesn’t distinguish between fossil fuel (petroleum) plastics and plastic alternatives, including biodegradable and compostable materials. It means that, where menstrual products are concerned, products made with certified composable materials – such as those made by Natracare – must display a ‘contains plastic’ label with pictogram of a dying turtle.
Natracare says the ruling sends a “very conflicting message” to consumers.
“Our products proudly carry an independent ‘Plastic Free’ certification, meaning they contain no petroleum-based plastic. So, to have another conflicting logo next to it, forced by this new directive, is very confusing for our customers,” says Susie Hewson, founder and director of Natracare.
Hewson’s stance is supportive of the overall aim of the Directive, yet frustrated by the labelling regulation: “This was a rushed publication, and it seems that the issue of biodegradable plastics has not been adequately considered. As a business rooted in sustainability, we truly support the aims of the directive, but it is our view that this approach will not incentivise oil-based plastic brands to move to more ecological materials”.
Hewson and others have been lobbying the European Union to consider the impact on brands offering ecological alternatives, but for the moment there has been little sign of movement on the issue.
The European Commission says on its official website that will “address the sourcing, labelling and use of bio-based plastics, and the use of biodegradable and compostable plastics”. But it acknowledges that there is “currently no EU law in place applying to bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics in a comprehensive manner”.
Many are asking about the situation in the UK, following Brexit. The UK government is not obliged to follow the Single Use Plastics Directive, with the exception of Northern Ireland which may need to adopt the policies under the Northern Ireland protocol. However, the four nations are each deciding how to next take measures against plastic pollution.