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EU plastics groups call for stronger legislative base for plastics strategy


The European Commission's ambitious 'plastics strategy' for more environmentally friendly use of plastics should be enshrined in hard law, with sector-wide targets, industry associations are saying.

"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 Alexandre Dangis, managing director of the European Plastics Converters association.

He spoke in an interview after a much-anticipated conference on the circular economy February 20-21 in Brussels.

Dangis said the plastics strategy 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 said.

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

Dangis noted that despite "sensational horror stories and exaggerated statements" - such as the conference itself boasting it was plastics-free - "people still acknowledge the importance of plastics for our society."

He noted that the EU plastics strategy still says that "plastics is an important and ubiquitous material".

Dangis and other European plastics association executives argued against plastic bans at the conference,

which was held by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee.

An executive with the PlasticsEurope trade group, public affairs director Leonor Garcia, said in an interview after the conference that proper waste management is the key to tackling the problem.

"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."

The association's 'Plastics 2030 - Voluntary Commitment' pledge calls for 60 percent reuse and recycling for plastics packaging by 2030 and 100 percent re-use, recycling and/or recovery of all plastics packaging in the 28 nations of the European Union, plus Norway and Switzerland, by 2040.

EU government officials said they welcomed the additional attention on plastics.

The commissioner of internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, for example, asked industry at the conference to respond by June to calls for more recycled content.

She said a long-awaited legislative proposal on single-use plastics is due in May, as well as a "strategic research innovation agenda" for plastics later in the year.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said increased public awareness about plastic was "like climate change revisited: the same dimension, the same enthusiasm."

That's important, with only 14 percent of plastics recycled globally, Bieńkowska said.

The EU's strategy will "address the systemic failures in the plastics value chain", she said, noting that industry will need to work even harder after China imposed an import ban on plastics waste in January.

However, speakers remained positive.

"We are on the right track," said Mette Skovgaard, senior adviser, sustainability unit, for the city of Copenhagen, Denmark. "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," said Nico Rietveld, commercial director for Bar-le-Duc (mineral waters) at the Netherlands-based drinks producer United Soft Drinks. He also called for less plastics incineration and said deposit schemes would improve recycled material quality.


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