EU must set mandatory recycled content in packaging by 2030 - producers

Author: Jonathan Lopez

2021/09/09

LONDON (ICIS)--The EU must set a mandatory target for recycled content in plastic packaging of 30% by 2030 to prop up circularity evenly among the 27 member states, plastics producers’ trade group PlasticsEurope said on Thursday.

The group demanded again that the EU also includes chemical recycling as a technology to increase circularity; it said chemical recycling is now “the missing link” to achieve circularity, given that certain plastics can only be recycled through that technology.

The EU is currently revising its Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) to be in line with the subsequent Circular Economy Package. Currently, the PPWD legislation sets a target of 55% of plastic waste recycled by 2030.

The European Commission’s official page on PPWD can be viewed here; the EU’s executive body opened in January a consultation for its reform, aiming to adapt legislation to the latest circularity targets after the 27-country bloc approved its Green Deal in 2020 to decarbonise the economy by 2050.

PlasticsEurope’s target of 30% recycled content in plastic packaging by 2030 would be in line with the EU’s target to recycle 55% of plastic packaging by the same year.

“55% of plastics packaging will need to be recycled under the EU's targets. Not all of this will end up in packaging but, if 55% is recycled, then 30% recycled content in new packaging is feasible,” said the trade group in a written response to ICIS.

“As part of this position, we are calling for harmonised separate collection and sorting of all plastics packaging waste to maximise the quantities and qualities of plastics available for recycling.”

COLLECTION, SORTING: MUCH TO DO
The EU faces a key challenge, however, to achieve plastics circularity: the lack of harmonisation among its 27 countries in waste collection and sorting systems produce varying results in terms of volumes and qualities.

For example, collection of bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – the most recycled plastic – vary greatly, with some EU countries’ recycling rates around 20% while others near 100% rates, according to Helen McGeough, ICIS recycling senior analyst.

McGeough added that with a potential mandatory target for recycling content in plastic packaging, demand for recycled material would inevitably rise, but this is not being mirrored with proposed changes in the collection and sorting systems to improve supply of high-quality feedstocks.

“This [recycled content targets] will create demand across all areas of packaging and all polymers, so competition for supply will grow,” said McGeough.

“But without addressing the constraints in collection and sorting, it could be challenging for the supply chain to deliver.”

PlasticsEurope agreed there is a “clear untapped” potential to improve collection and sorting across the EU; much plastic packaging waste still ends in landfills, as well as source for energy generation, two non-circular options.

“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,” Virginia Janssens, PlasticsEurope’s managing director, told ICIS.

“Having a harmonised EU policy framework that provides certainty and incentivises further investment in collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure and technologies, including chemical recycling, is key.”

INDUSTRY INVESTMENT PLEDGES
PlasticsEurope said its member companies would be on track to achieve the 30% target they are lobbying for but added that target would only be possible when chemical recycling is considered.

The development of technology to convert polymers into monomers for reuse  has accelerated in recent years and the industry claims it is key to achieve higher circularity.

Spanish chemicals producers, as well as EsPlastics, a platform involving producers as well as research institutions, are also campaigning for the government’s plans on circularity to include chemical recycling to count towards the recycling targets to be set.

“Ramping up chemical recycling is essential to achieve such a mandatory target,” said Plastics Europe on Thursday.

The industry group said its members are aiming to produce 1.2m tonnes/year of recycled plastics by 2025, potentially upping that amount to 3.4m by 2030.

In terms of capital expenditure (capex) by producers to achieve that target, PlasticsEurope said companies across the continent will have invested €2.6bn by 2025 in recycling plastics production facilities; by 2030, it said companies will have invested €7.2bn.

Front page picture: A plastics waste sorting centre in Paris
Source: Romuald Meigneux/SIPA/Shutterstock 

Focus article by Jonathan Lopez