EU Plastics Strategy focus on EPR and recycling targets welcomed by industry

The European plastics industry has responded positively to the release of the EU’s first Europe-wide plastics strategy, expressing support for improved extended producer responsibility (EPR) and the headline goal of ensuring that all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.

EU Plastics Strategy focus on EPR and recycling targets welcomed by industryThe strategy - ‘A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy’ - was presented on Tuesday and forms part of the EU’s Circular Economy Package, a set of laws and actions designed to guarantee a more resource-efficient future for Europe.

The issue of plastics pollution has shot up the political agenda all across the world in the past year as the effects of the estimated 8-12 million tonnes of plastic that enter the marine environment every year become more apparent, brought to new audiences by David Attenborough’s BBC series Blue Planet II, which was cited in the press conference by Timmermans. Just last week, the UK Government's long-term 25 Year Environment Plan centred on the reduction of plastic waste.

The EU’s strategy seeks to address issues throughout the plastics supply chain, from design through production and usage, and through to the end-of-life stage, through stimulating an internal single-market for recycled plastic to make the business case for plastics recycling, while fiscal and legislative measures will be explored to achieve aims including to make all plastic packaging on the EU market recyclable by 2030, to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics and to restrict the intentional use of microplastics.

Support for recycling targets

While the response from the British plastics industry to the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan was characterised by caution and sought to heavily emphasise the importance of plastic, the European plastics industry has greeted the EU plastics strategy with almost unfettered enthusiasm.

Support for the ambitious aim to make all plastic packaging recyclable by 2030 is widespread, with PlasticsEurope, a European trade association for plastics manufacturers, calling for harmonised rules to ensure this is achievable, while also supporting improved recycling options for plastics, as laid out in the revised Waste Framework (WFD) and Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD)

We, the European plastics manufacturers, are committed to ensure high rates of reuse and recycling with the ambition to reach 60 per cent for plastic packaging by 2030. This will help achieve our goal of 100 per cent reuse, recycling and recovery of all plastics packaging at European level by 2040”, said Karl-H. Foerster, Executive Director of PlasticsEurope.

Foerster also stressed the need to discourage landfilling plastics in order to achieve higher packaging recycling rates, recognising the strategy’s commitment to invest in improving waste management systems. Foerster said: “Since 2011, the European plastics industry has been calling for zero plastics to landfill. Only a legally binding landfill restriction on all recyclable and other recoverable post-consumer waste will put an end to the landfilling of all waste which can be used as a resource”.

With a citizen survey carried out by the European Commission showing that 90 per cent of European consumers think that more and better collection facilities for plastic need to be provided by local authorities, the industry and the public are certainly on the same wavelength when it comes to investment in facilities. Mike Turner, President of Pack2Go Europe, a European trade association representing food and beverage packaging manufacturers, commented: “The packaging we make is filled at the point of sale or just before serving and is designed first and foremost to guarantee food hygiene, protect public health and help ensure consumer safety in a world where people regularly eat and drink out-of-home or on-the-go.

EU Plastics Strategy focus on EPR and recycling targets welcomed by industry
The strategy was launched this week by Jyrki Katainen and Frans Timmermans
“As these packs are fully recyclable, Pack2Go Europe wants access to recycling in place for our products by the end of 2025 all across Europe. We are going to play a leading role in achieving that endgame. It’s clear that more investment in collection systems and recycling infrastructure are needed if we are to deliver a circular economy for food and beverage service packaging in Europe.”

Extended producer responsibility

It is recognised, however, that the financial burden of improving collections should not be borne solely by local authorities, with the plastics industry welcoming the strategy’s emphasis on EPR and ensuring that the costs of recycling are shared equitably throughout the value chain.

In support of exploring the expansion of EPR schemes for plastics in the European single market, Hans Van Bochove, Chairman of the European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) and Vice-President Public Affairs and Government Relations Coca-Cola European Partners, said: “We remain committed to strengthening the sustainability of all aspects of the packaging value chain and supporting EU efforts towards a circular economy. Harmonising and strengthening our waste management systems across Europe, in line with what has just been agreed by the EU in the WFD and PPWD, is rightly indicated as a key priority. We are pleased to see EPR recognised as playing a key part in strengthening packaging waste management in Europe, which EUROPEN has supported from the outset.”

“EU minimum requirements for EPR will increase accountability for all private and public stakeholders. If implemented well, EPR and modulated EPR fees play an important role in creating incentives for producers’ packaging design choices and boost innovation in the packaging supply chain.”

UK context

The strategy has not gone unnoticed across the English Channel, despite the UK’s impending departure from the EU. With work ongoing over transposing European environment legislation into UK law, numerous are those that would like to see the EU’s Circular Economy Package, of which the Plastics strategy is a part, apply to the UK, with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggesting in January 2017 that it expected the Package to apply to the UK.

Giving a British perspective on the strategy, Vanden Recycling UK Managing Director David Wilson stated his desire to see it applied to the UK, saying: "As an established UK plastic recycling company, we welcome the ambitions of the European Commission to ensure that all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.

"We are also pleased that at a time when some are criticising plastics, that the European Commission recognises the sustainable and economic contribution that plastics make to the European economy. It is also good to see that the European Commission wants to create an economically successful plastic recycling industry and will put in measures to support its growth.

"One of the elements of the strategy that we particularly like is the ambition for providing reliable, high-volume supply of recycled plastics to manufacturers. At Vanden Recycling we pride ourselves on already doing this. But we welcome the idea of quality specifications for recycled plastics, making products designed to be recycled or reused as this will help the public to recycle more effectively, and especially quality standards for sorted plastic waste and recycled plastics. All of this will make it much easier to recycle plastics into a high-quality product.

"We hope that the UK will also adopt this strategy after Brexit as a consistent plastic waste strategy in both UK and EU will be beneficial to a successful plastic recycling industry."

You can view the strategy - ‘A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy’ - in full on the European Commission’s website. 

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