European plastics industry unites behind ‘Plastics Transition’ roadmap
European plastics manufacturers have agreed on a ‘Plastics Transition’ roadmap to accelerate the transition to sustainability in the industry.
The roadmap – published by Plastics Europe – provides a recognition of the environmental challenges posed by the European plastic systems and encourages deep-rooted collaboration between the plastics value chain and policymakers alike to drive sustainable change.
The document outlines the vision of Plastics Europe to shape a sustainable plastics system that continues to meet consumer demands, whilst facilitating the transitions of numerous downstream industries and maintaining its role as a crucial asset in the European economy.
Commenting on the roadmap, Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of Plastics Europe, said: “For the first time our industry is united around a hugely ambitious but realistic plan to redesign the European plastics system - the ‘Plastics Transition’ roadmap.
“It will be our North Star for the years to come and reflects a profound cultural shift that has taken place in our industry.”
Moving forward, Plastics Europe has committed to reporting back on its progress towards achieving the targets outlined in the roadmap every two years and claims that these objectives will be continuously refined and updated based on new insights and changes to the industry environment.
Redesigning the European plastics system
The roadmap sets out the European plastic industry’s vision to reshape the plastics system across three central strategic pillars, implementing concrete targets to ensure progress can be closely tracked.
The first strategic pillar is to drive circularity in the European plastics industry. Plastics Europe suggests that this process will be gradual, envisioning a 25 per cent substitution from fossil-based plastics by the year 2030 before reaching 65 per cent by 2050.
The text outlines the process by which this will be achieved as technology continues to expand and develop. Through reuse alone, an estimated 12 Mt of plastics can be reduced by 2050. The transition to circularity will then first rely on the development and scaling of mechanical and chemical engineering technologies in the coming years, then on plastics produced from biomass around the year 2040, whilst a small capacity of plastics will also be produced from captured carbon and hydrogen as this technology grows.
The second pillar of the roadmap is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and drive lifecycle emissions to net zero. Through methods such as using low-carbon fuels, and maximising energy efficiency, and moving to circular feedstocks, the roadmap delineates a pathway to reduce GHG emissions in the European system by 28 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.
The third strategic pillar proposed by Plastics Europe is to foster sustainable use of plastics; this signifies that plastics should be produced and applied in ways both safe for human health and the environment.
To achieve this, Plastics Europe’s members are working to ensure the safety of plastics via various methods – developing new tools and methodologies to manage operational risk, providing greater transparency with stakeholders and enhancing collaboration with the value chain.
The roadmap also outlines Plastics Europe’s commitment to building greater intelligence and collaborating closely with both researchers to better understand the impact of microplastics on both the environment and human health and policymakers to introduce concrete measures to help mitigate their release.
The anticipated cumulative additional investments and operational costs required to achieve the ambitions set out through the roadmap’s three strategic pillars are projected to total approximately €235 billion.
Whilst Plastics Europe acknowledges that the industry itself must do significantly more to deliver more rapid systemic change, the roadmap also highlights that circularity requires a whole value chain approach and includes recommended actions – in the immediate, short and medium-term – for policymakers and value chain stakeholders to implement in the coming years.
Virginia Janssens added: “To be successful, critical action, real collaboration and explicit political will is needed. Decisions taken in the next few years will determine whether and how quickly we can fulfil the ambitions set out in the roadmap.
“We urgently need an enabling policy and regulatory framework that stimulates circular markets and industry investments in Europe, rather than hinders the industry’s transition. The window of opportunity to make these accountable decisions is rapidly closing.”
The European plastics industry and net zero
The Plastics Transition roadmap underlines the crucial need to establish a European waste management system that is suitable for a circular and net zero economy. The roadmap stresses the need to establish minimum targets for circular plastic content in key plastic applications to stimulate demand for circular plastics, whilst simultaneously unlocking industry investments in key infrastructure such as chemical recycling.
During this transition period, the document underscores the imperative need for assistance from policymakers to ensure that the European plastics system remains internationally competitive.
Marco ten Bruggencate, President of Plastics Europe and Dow EMEA Commercial Vice President Packaging and Speciality Plastics said: “We are excited about the opportunity the Green Deal provides to create a thriving and competitive European plastics industry that allows us to increase investment and innovation in circularity and decarbonisation.
However, to enable the transition we will need measures to safeguard the competitiveness of our industry if we are to prevent industrial activity and investments migrating out of Europe to other regions and to avoid becoming increasingly dependent on imports of plastics which do not necessarily meet EU sustainability standards.”
Adding to this, Rob Ingram, Plastics Europe Steering Board Roadmap Task Force Lead and CEO said: “The wider European plastics system is too big, complex, and inter-connected for any part of it to successfully deliver a circular and net zero system alone. We need to find better ways of listening, talking and deepening our collaboration.
“The roadmap should be viewed as an invitation to challenge our thinking and identify the areas where we can join forces and progress faster together. To promote this collaboration Plastics Europe is calling on the European Commission to develop a Clean Transition Dialogue for the European plastics system.”