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Industry seeks mandatory 30% by 2030 EU recycled plastics packaging content target

13 September 2021 Clay Boswell Keiron Greenhalgh

Europe's plastics industry wants a mandatory EU recycled content target for plastics packaging of 30% by 2030.

Industry association PlasticsEurope said "an enabling policy framework and collaboration with the value chain are essential to reach the target."

PlasticsEurope said 9 September that producers support the European Commission's (EC) proposal for a mandatory EU recycled content target for plastics packaging, as defined in the EC's Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD). This target should be 30% for plastics packaging by 2030, according to PlasticsEurope.

The PPWD calls for a 50% target for recycling of plastic packaging waste by 2025 and has a 55% by 2030 target.

The association said it endorses the objective of preventing and reducing excessive packaging and packaging waste. "We welcome the revision of the PPWD, EU legislation that is key to the transition to a circular economy for plastics," it said.

PlasticsEurope said its members are already working toward the target by investing billions of euros in "increased high-quality supply of recycled plastics and leading-edge technology solutions." Ramping up chemical recycling is essential to achieve the target, it added.

PlasticsEurope members' planned investments in Europe to develop chemical-recycling technology and infrastructure total €2.6 billion ($3.1 billion) by 2025 and €7.2 billion by 2030.

"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 Markus Steilemann, president of PlasticsEurope and CEO of Covestro.

Changes of mindset and behavior, as well as higher-performing products, eco-design innovation, and new infrastructure are needed to meet the target, PlasticsEurope said. It added that recycled content must be derived from all "waste materials" through a technology-neutral approach that includes mechanical and chemical recycling, with a credible mass-balance framework—a set of rules that enables traceability between feedstock input and product output, and along the value chain to the producer of a final article.

"We need a harmonized EU policy framework that provides certainty and incentivizes further investment in collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure and technologies, including chemical recycling," said Virginia Janssens, managing director of PlasticsEurope. "It is only by working together with the EU institutions and the value chain that we can deliver on this target. With the right enabling conditions in place this will be a very different industry 10 years from now."

Likewise in the US

PlasticsEurope's counterparts across the Atlantic are of a similar mind.

"The time to act on climate is now," Sheryl Telford, Chemours chief sustainability officer, told a US Chamber of Commerce event 9 September. "I truly believe all of us want to get to net zero in 2050 and it is going to take partnerships as we've never seen before."

Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is a moonshot, said Telford, before noting it was achievable, especially if collaborations come to fruition. "We will get there, and frankly we must get there," she said.

"Plastics do not belong in our environment, end of story," added Chris Jahn, American Chemistry Council president, noting that that it wasn't about banning plastics, rather "this is an engineering problem" that can be solved with technology that already available.

Congress needs to act quickly to maximize the impact of change in the US, said Jahn.

Jahn said ACC had a five-point plan for Congress. He said what was needed was that Congress require all plastic packaging include 30% recycled materials by 2030; develop a "moderate" regulatory system; institute a dramatic improvement in the US recycling infrastructure ecosystem, including national standards; the National Academy of Sciences to study GHG emissions from all sectors, and help guide policies going forward; and establish an "American-designed" responsibility system for producers.

One of the problems is that there is a need for more supply, a ramping up of consumers' access to curbside recycling, Dow Chief Sustainability Officer Mary Draves said during the same US Chamber webinar.

The US Environmental Protection Agency released a draft recycling strategy in October, setting a 50% recycling target. A final version is expected to be released this summer.

The biggest challenge for users of recycled plastics, said Brent Heist, Proctor & Gamble (P&G) director of research and development packaging and sustainability, is the quality of material available after it has been collected and sorted, especially in single-stream systems such as those in the US.

P&G, he added, is trying to disconnect the price question from its decisionmaking—even though virgin resins are often cheaper than their recycled counterparts—as the company has made a long-term commitment to recycled materials.

"It's not a simple binary decision," he said, looking at the other benefits the company can offer to consumers, and other ways P&G can save costs.

Taking it to the UN

The ACC and the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA) earlier in September, meanwhile, threw their support behind a resolution at the next meeting of the UN Environment Assembly in February 2022 to begin negotiating a global agreement on the elimination of plastic waste in the environment.

"We should not confuse the value of plastics with the issue of plastic waste. This is a global challenge requiring a global solution. With support from the UN, we can develop a global framework to help us solve this critical issue," Draves' boss, Dow CEO Jim Fitterling, said during a 1 September webinar.

ACC and ICCA have proposed five principles to guide the resolution:

  • All governments agree to eliminate plastic waste leakage into the environment by a specific date and develop regionally appropriate national action plans and policies that allow flexibility based on local circumstances.
  • Achieve widespread access to waste collection and support deployment of technologies, including advanced recycling, to increase the circularity of plastics.
  • Recognize the role plastics play in a lower-carbon future by supporting life cycle analysis as a means to evaluate impacts of plastics and alternatives.
  • Support innovation in product and packaging design by developing, with industry input, global guidance on design, recycled content, and resource optimization.
  • Measure progress on plastic waste through globally accepted definitions and reporting metrics, using validated and harmonized methodologies.

--Contributions by Ian Young and Clay Boswell of Chemical Week; Keiron Greenhalgh, Net-Zero Business Daily.

Posted 13 September 2021 by Clay Boswell, Markets Editor and

Keiron Greenhalgh, Editor, Climate & Sustainability Group, IHS Markit

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