Recycling plastics as important as ever in new normal, consumers’ awareness intact
LONDON (ICIS)–Sustainability remains as important in the ‘the new normal’ as it was prior to the pandemic, recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) industry players said on Thursday.
“It [the pandemic] hasn’t changed anything. Sustainability was already a big issue, it still is, and I think this will remain the case,” said Jan Willem Slijkoord, founder of 3D printing recycling specialist CiorC.
Silijkoord made his remarks in a panel at ICIS PET Value Chain Virtual Conference.
Timm Kirchhoff, senior process engineering for plastic recycling at packaging manufacturer Krones AG, said the pandemic has not only brought changes to the recycling market but also has prompted a “more open discussion” about all plastics.
“People are looking to find solutions to how they can solve problems,” he said.
Over the last 18 months there has been an increase in demand for Krones test facility as industry participants explore to increase the use of recycled material, said Kirchhoff.
This attention is not confined specifically to plastic production, as consumers continue to take interest in the environment, and this is shaping the way that industry develops.
In fact, consumers would be starting to be more informed about this, said Raffi Schier, director for Europe at Bantam Materials International, arguing there is currently more awareness to create a true supply at scale from ocean plastic production.
“Consumers are starting to get wise to the difference between symbolic actions and empty press and real solutions skill,” said Schier.
Pressure from consumers has been key to achieve change; according to the sustainability director at trade group the European Federation of Bottled Waters, every industry should have informed citizens and advocated for a change in attitude towards all materials.
“Plastic has been condemned in many ways because of poor waste management. We need to have a holistic approach to not one but on all materials put on the market to be collected recycled or in some cases reused,” said Ermis Panagiotopoulos.
Legislation has helped accelerate a move away from single-use plastic, but Panagiotopoulos warned that regulations need to be made be based on the science, rather than emotion.
He added that to move forward and become “better public-private” and not just top-down, cooperation with the industry and the entire value chain would be crucial.
Schemes such as the deposit system implemented in certain areas of Europe have been effective in helping to close the loop and has lessened the impact of contaminants on used materials, enabling profitability for recyclers.
While regulations have been effective in the EU increasing the use of recycled material, Slijkoord argued that legislators should provide financial support for the required energy and effort to make long-term changes.
Although the 28-country EU has been key in leading the charge with environmental legislation surrounding plastics, a solution needs to be on a global basis.
Schier highlighted the issue of waste still being sent from the EU to places with insufficient waste management systems but not accepting recycled materials from these countries.
Kirchhoff spoke of how this had changed over the course of his career, as there was an increased willingness of people in sharing experience and information on recycling, as well as technology.
But he warned about other challenges the industry is facing.
“We need to use plastic in a smarter way or we will face the same problems we have now in 10-20 years,” said Kirchhoff.
“Keeping plastic as a good material, in the minds of consumer and companies, is something we all have to work on.”
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Focus article by Morgan Condon
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