EU pressed to set mandatory recycled plastic content requirement

EU pressed to set mandatory recycled plastic content requirementA coalition of European organisations has called on the EU to implement a minimum requirement for recycled plastics in new products.

The coalition, made up of 34 businesses, trade associations and charities in the wider recycling and plastics sector, is responding to what it sees as omissions in the European Plastics Strategy, the content of which was agreed on by Europe’s environment ministers in March.

Released yesterday (19 July), the ‘Call for EU action on recycled content mandates for plastics’ has the support of groups including FEAD (The European Federation of Waste Management and Environment Services), Keep Britain Tidy, Plastic Recyclers Europe, the Resource Association, the European Environmental Bureau and the Marine Conservation Society.

The Plastics Strategy is recognised as an important part of the wider European Circular Economy Package (CEP), which sets out strict recycling targets for EU member states of 55 per cent by 2025 and 60 per cent by 2030.

Key actions proposed in the Plastics Strategy include incentivising design for recyclability and reforming Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to ensure producers contribute equally to the cost of recycling their products. One notable element of the strategy is a proposed ban on some of the most commonly used and littered plastic items, including single-use cutlery, straws and cotton buds, items which have come under increasing fire from campaign groups and governments in the past year.

The strategy also emphasises the need to stimulate secondary markets for recycled plastic, but the call to action claims that proposed measures do not go far enough, stating: ‘We, the cosignatories of this call to action, welcome the voluntary commitments introduced in the European Commission’s Plastics Strategy to boost the uptake of recycled plastics, but we believe that without minimum recycled content legislation there is not enough incentive for product manufacturers to shift from using virgin to recycled plastic feedstock on a long-term basis.’

EU pressed to set mandatory recycled plastic content requirement
The organisations that have given their support to the call for mandatory recycled content

Some producers are already beginning to move towards increasing recycled content in their plastic products, such as the European food and drink conglomerate Princes, which has committed to using 51 per cent recycled PET in its bottles by September 2018. A pledge for greater recycled content is also a key commitment in the UK Plastics Pact, an agreement between over 40 UK businesses to eliminate ‘problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging’ by 2025.

However, the call to action is recommending that a mandated minimum recycled content for plastic products and packaging products of 30 per cent by 2025, to escalate over time, which the group states ‘would considerably boost the markets for recycled plastic within Europe, thereby growing and strengthening the local market.’

This would also provide an economic incentive to increase the collection and treatment of plastics within Europe, something crucial in light of the changing global markets resulting from China’s recent ban on the import of 24 grades of solid waste, including post-consumer plastics. Recycling up to 10 million tonnes of plastic waste within the EU rather than exporting abroad for processing would, the group states, result in €10 billion (£8.9 billion) worth of investment in collection, sorting and treatment facilities.

Read more: Could the Chinese export ban lead to a great leap forward for British recycling?

A report published in June by environmental think tank Green Alliance also recommends the introduction of mandatory recycled content requirements, finding that recycled plastics could provide 71 per cent of the raw material needed by UK manufacturers, if adequate pull measures(including recycled content standards) were put in place to stimulate the domestic reprocessing market.

As well as the recycled content requirement, the coalition is calling for ‘economic incentives and penalties’ which would encourage the procurement of recycling resin, as well as the the ‘eco-modulation’ of fees paid by producers to be designed ‘in a way that does not only consider the recyclability of products, but the recycled content as well.’ This implies that Extended Producer Responsibility fees should be graduated, with producers paying less towards the recycling of their products if they contain a high percentage of recycled content, as well as if they are easy to recycle.

It is acknowledged that current supplies of quality recycled plastic may be insufficient to meet a 30 per cent target, but the group states that all signatories are committed to working together across the entire value chain to boost supply and demand.

The full ‘Call for EU action on recycled content mandates for plastics’ can be read on the FEAD website.

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