What are single use plastics?

Plastic has many valuable properties; it is light, hygienic, insulates well, is low cost and durable. Plastic is used in construction, to store liquids, while plastic packaging can prevent food waste by preserving food. Many types of plastic are designed to be used for a long time. Single use plastics, however, are plastic products that are used once and then discarded. They represent a particular challenge. Plastic takes centuries to break down and, if not managed properly, can pollute marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. 

Typical single use plastics include plastic cutlery, straws, beverage containers and food containers.

Monitoring across the EU has revealed that the 10 most commonly used single use plastic items, along with fishing gear, make up 70% of all marine litter on European beaches.

What is being done about single use plastic litter?

In recognition of this huge challenge, an EU Directive was published in 2019, with the aim of reducing the volume and impact of specific plastic products on the environment. The EU Directive ‘on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment’ is commonly referred to as the ‘Single Use Plastics Directive’.

The Directive addresses the 10 most common single use plastics referred to above, as well as fishing gear and plastic used in agriculture, and commits EU Member States to introduce a range of measures to deal with these plastic products.

To take legal effect in Ireland, the Directive was transposed into national legislation through SI No. 516 of 2021, as amended by SI No. 136 of 2022.

The Irish Regulations place a range of controls on various types of plastic products and on those who manufacture or import these products. Since July 2021, the following single use plastic items can no longer be placed on the market in Ireland:

  • Cotton bud sticks
  • Cutlery
  • Plates
  • Stirrers
  • Straws
  • Balloon rods
  • Expanded polystyrene single use food and beverage containers
  • All oxo-degradable plastic products

Other controls include design and labelling requirements, use of recycled plastic, separate collection of plastic bottles and the introduction of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for a number of single use plastic products.

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)

By 5 January 2023, in addition to their existing EPR obligations associated with packaging, producers of plastic packaging will be required to cover the costs of litter clean up for the following single use plastic items:

  • food containers
  • beverage containers and cups
  • packets and wrappers
  • light weight carrier bags

By 5 January 2023, an EPR scheme was introduced for tobacco products containing plastic. Producers cannot place these products on the market in Ireland unless they are a member of the EPR compliance scheme - the Tobacco Product Plastic Filter Group (TPPFG). The same requirement will apply, from December 31 2024, to producers of balloons and wet wipes.


Responsibility for enforcement of  the single use plastics regulations - and other EPR regulations referred to above - has been assigned to the EPA and local authorities. 

Useful sources of information

Find out more about the Tobacco Products Plastic Filter Group

Learn more about the Single Use Plastics Directive

Find out what is happening with Single Use Plastics in the EPA's circular economy programme