Plastics producers have called for the creation of a framework to set a mandatory recycled content target within the European Union by 2030.
PlasticsEurope, which represents around 100 companies producing more than 90% of all polymers in Europe, has called for a 30% target to be set by the start of the next decade, following the European Commission’s proposal for such a target for plastics packaging.
“The call for a regulated recycled content target for plastics packaging in the EU demonstrates our commitment to accelerate the transformation to a circular economy, helping implement the EU Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan,” said Dr Markus Steilemann, President of PlasticsEurope.
On 11 June 2020, the Commission announced it would start an open public consultation on the review of requirements for packaging to ensure packaging waste can be reduced, and to make it easier to recycle, as part of the 1994 Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD).
According to PlasticsEurope, its members are already working towards this target by investing in cutting-edge technological solutions, including chemical recycling, which it states is “essential to achieve such a mandatory target.”
“Our members’ planned investments in this vital technology and infrastructure range from €2.6 billion by 2025 to €7.2 billion by 2030 in Europe,” a press release read.
The association stressed that a “concerted effort must be made”, and that support from European institutions and the whole value chain will be needed.
“We need a harmonised EU policy framework that provides certainty and incentivises further investment in collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure and technologies, including chemical recycling,” said Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of PlasticsEurope.
Chemical recycling is a process by which a polymer is chemically reduced to its original form, to later be remade into new plastic materials that go on to become new plastic products.
However, according to the environmental association Zero Waste, which campaigns against all waste, the solution does not lie in setting a recycled content target if it involves chemical recycling.
“Designing for chemical recycling’ endangers actual recyclability of plastics and prevents efforts to phase out hard-to-recycle plastic,” said Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe.
“Considering the high environmental impact, lack of infrastructure and unproven efficiency, chemical recycling should be the last resort,” she added.
The organisation stressed that most plastic packaging in use today is not designed for reuse or to be recycled, meaning that even if 40% of plastic packaging is reported as recycled in the EU, the effective recycling rate is only about 10-15%.
“Moreover, plastic products are increasingly being marketed with misleading claims of being recyclable and products that claim to be recyclable are not always recycled,” the organisation said, adding that packaging must instead be designed for mechanical recycling.
This type of recycling sees collected plastic debris being washed and melted, after which the waste is transformed into raw material for a new production process of plastic transformation.
However, the organisation stressed the need for the institutions and plastic manufacturing companies to work on reducing the production and consumption of plastic at the source, and then focus on developing reusable packaging solutions.