Experts call for stronger legislative base for EU plastics strategy

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The 16 Jan European Commission’s ‘third circular economy package’ of pro-recycling reforms and regulations, which contains an ambitious EU plastics strategy, should be enshrined in hard law, with sector-wide targets, plastics industry experts have told Plastics News Europe.

“The strategy’s recycling targets [all plastic packaging must be reused or easily recycled by 2030] and requirement to have converted 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics into new products by 2025 are very ambitious and to reach them industry will need legislative support,” said European Plastics Converters (EuPC)’s managing director Alexandre Dangis.

In an exclusive interview, held after a February 20-21 third circular economy stakeholder conference in Brussels, Dangis urged “better enforcement of current EU legislation, in particular the waste directives and food contact regulation [(EC) No 1935/2004]” as regards recycled plastics. In addition, Dangis told Plastics News Europe the package demanded “significant actions of the entire value chain,” notably concerning consumer education and waste management.

“Technological limits of mechanical recycling might have been reached, but we can still contribute far more to using recycled plastics if proper sorting and plastics waste separation infrastructures are set up in Europe,” he made clear.

“Chemical recycling of polymers also needs to be seriously exploited to develop new resource efficient supply chains for Europe’s petrochemical business.”

For Dangis, despite “sensational horror stories and exaggerated statements” (the conference itself boasted it was plastics-free), “people still acknowledge the importance of plastics for our society,” with the plastics strategy noting “plastics is an important and ubiquitous material”.

So unsurprisingly, in the plastics strategy session, Dangis opposed plastics bans: “Saying consumers don’t put plastics in the right bins is no reason for them [bans].”

PlasticsEurope’s director of public affairs, Leonor Garcia, agreed. “This will not solve the problem,” she told Plastics News Europe on 26 February.

“According to the UN Environment Programme [UNEP], 80% of all marine litter originates from land. This means proper waste management systems are key to effectively tackling the problem at source, with practices that prevent plastics entering the marine environment, educational programmes and scientific research programmes on marine litter.”

At the conference, held by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee, industry experts instead praised industry’s voluntary commitments developed in response to the circular economy package, which has been debated in various forms, especially since 2015. “These are absolutely essential,” said PlasticsEurope’s executive director Karl-H Foerster.

Detailed in the association’s ‘Plastics 2030 - Voluntary Commitment’ document, these are 60% reuse and recycling for plastics packaging by 2030 and 100% re-use, recycling and/or recovery of all plastics packaging in the EU-28, Norway and Switzerland, by 2040.

Meanwhile, “eco-design with plastics will increase circularity and resource efficiency,” and “new plastics packaging technologies will increase plastic packaging recyclability,” Garcia said. “We are working to accelerate the development of mechanical and chemical recycling solutions which will lead to higher quality recycled materials and a broader use of recycled products.”

And internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska asked industry at the conference to respond by June to the “recycled content pledging campaign”. The long-awaited legislative proposal on single-use plastics is due in May.

A “strategic research innovation agenda” for plastics is further due this year, Bieńkowska said. This will contain “more standardisation and awareness campaigns” and assess alternative feedstocks for plastic production and how to boost the recycled plastics market.

European Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans welcomed public awareness about plastic was “like climate change revisited: the same dimension, the same enthusiasm.” Such keenness is needed with only 14% of plastics recycled globally, Bieńkowska noted.

The EU’s strategy will “address the systemic failures in the plastics value chain”, she said – with industry needing to work even harder after China imposed an import ban on plastics waste last month (January 2018).

However, speakers remained positive. “We are on the right track,” Mette Skovgaard, senior adviser, sustainability unit, City of Copenhagen, said. “But disposal would be easier if industry agreed to use fewer types of polymers in plastics packaging.”

“We shouldn’t put all plastics in one basket,” Nico Rietveld, commercial director for Bar-le-Duc (mineral waters) at Utrecht, the Netherlands-based drinks producer United Soft Drinks, agreed. He also called for less plastics incineration and said deposit schemes would improve recycled material quality.


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