The European plastics industry last week took the crucial first step in moving away from virgin plastics towards a circular economy. It supported the Commission’s proposal for a mandatory 30% recycled content in plastics packaging by 2030. And it argued that this could only be achieved by the use of chemical recycling.
It is hard to overstate the importance of this move. The 30% target for recycled content in plastic packaging is fully aligned with the EU’s 55% target for recycled plastic packaging. As PlasticsEurope told ICIS:
“Not all of this (55%) will end up in packaging but, if 55% is recycled, then 30% recycled content in new packaging is feasible..“Ramping up chemical recycling is essential to achieve such a mandatory target.”
Importantly, PlasticsEurope have also told the Commission that the EU must support chemical recycling. This is “the missing link” today, to achieve circularity.
As Virginia Janssens, PlasticsEurope’s managing director, confirmed:
“We need to fully capture the value of discarded packaging waste and keep it in a closed loop. In 2018, 17.8m tonnes of plastic post-consumer packaging waste were collected, out of which 42% were sent to recycling, 39.5% to energy recovery and 18.5% to landfills.”
As I noted in my keynote presentation at the ICIS PET Value Chain conference, also last week:
“We are in the process of seeing paradigm shifts taking place, accelerated by the pandemic. What we need to do is set out a vision and work towards it. The result will be more recycling on a local basis.”
The key need now is to intensify collaboration between the key partners in the packaging market, as the chart shows. 2030 is only a few years away, and very little of the necessary infrastructure and approvals are yet in place.
No single company or industry can develop a recycling industry on its own. If one looks at today’s landscape, it is clear that collaboration must intensify:
- Producers mainly work with converters and OEMs/brand owners
- Waste managers mainly work with consumers, retailers and cities/towns
The term “waste manager” highlights the gulf that will now have to be bridged. Plastic can no longer be seen as “waste”, just because it has fulfilled its original purpose in packaging or other single-use applications.
The move to recycling is also urgent from the viewpoint of securing future plastics production capacity in Europe. Plastics are much better in terms of CO2 emissions than their main alternatives such as cardboard, glass and metal.
And CO2 is as critical an issue as waste plastic, given the need to adopt Net Zero targets to control climate change:
- The need to replace fossil fuels with renewables means that the supply of key feedstocks such as naphtha is set to reduce
- The number of refineries producing naphtha is also set to reduce by 2030 as the auto market converts to Electric Vehicles (EVs)
- Leading auto manufacturer VW, for example, expects at least 70% of its European sales will be EVs by then, dramatically reducing demand for gasoline and diesel
PlasticsEurope’s commitment is a critical first step, as I have argued here since the beginning of the year. Now we need companies to step up to the plate, in alliance with their value chain and financial partners. Time is limited, and the industry must be able to demonstrate real progress before COP26 in November.