Joanna Drake, a deputy director in the EC's Environment Directorate, urged the industry to stay focused on its commitments made earlier this year to dramatically increase use of recycled plastic in products, from an estimated 2.5 million to 4 million metric tons now to 10 million tonnes by 2025.
In a keynote speech during a conference at the PlasticsEurope booth in Hall 6, Drake said the EC and European governments applaud the commitments the industry has made.
But she also outlined government steps that could be coming, including regulations to boost public confidence in the performance of recycled plastic so it equals that of virgin materials.
Those moves could also include regulations to encourage more innovation in packaging design, more extended producer responsibility and reducing exports of some plastic waste.
She said the commission recognizes the role of plastics for society and that industry should be proud of its innovation, even as governments push for more controls on plastic pollution and more circular use of materials.
"We're not talking about plastic bashing here," Drake told the crowd. "We're talking about controlling pollution and making sure that what we can do most with plastic, we continue to do and put it back in the economy."
She highlighted a voluntary EC-led initiative with the industry, the Circular Plastics Alliance, that last month saw more than 100 organizations, governments and companies make public commitments toward reaching 10 million tonnes of recycled plastic use by 2025. "This is a huge target which I only see growing," she said. While suppliers of recycled plastic have pledged more than 10 million tonnes, users or buyers of the material have only made pledges of about 6.4 million tonnes, she said.
Currently, she noted that only about 6 percent of all plastic used in products in the European Union is recycled plastic.
The European Union countries use about 55 million tonnes of plastic a year, so reaching 10 million tonnes of recyclates would mean that EU-wide, recycled materials would grow to about 20 percent of plastics use, according to figures presented at a separate K show event by the Euromap machinery association.
"We need to propose more dialogue and we need to intensify the cooperation within the plastics value chains themselves in Europe," Drake said. "By launching the Circular Plastics Alliance, you showed you're taking on your responsibility, your responsibility for having a sustainable plastics industry."
She urged the industry to develop systems of plastics use that "harness the many benefits of plastics while addressing also its drawbacks, thus delivering on a more sustainable Europe." "It can actually be a protagonist of the future and a more sustainable Europe," she said. While progress is being made around recycled content, she said the commission is looking at next steps for plastic waste and sustainability.
Drake said a new version of the EC's Circular Action Plan will be developed soon and will push for regulations to give the public the same confidence around using recycled materials in products that they have with virgin materials. "If we don't tackle it seriously, then people will not have trust, not even the buyers will have trust in recycled materials," Drake said. "We have to make sure there is an evolution to safe and nontoxic plastic recyclates."
As well, she said the EC intends to work more on waste prevention, not just recycling, and urged the industry to focus on reducing and reusing materials as well. The European Council also wants the EC to review the packaging waste directives to strengthen requirements around recycling or reuse of packaging.
"They want us to make more real the prospect that by 2030, which is already a legal requirement, all packaging must be reusable or easily recyclable by 2030," Drake said.
She said it could include changes in rules to trigger more innovation in packaging design and more guidelines on extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs. "The key for us will be how can we make the [EPR] fees more eco-modular in a way that the more sustainable your design, the smaller fee you pay," she said. "I think this is only fair." She also said the EC is in "active discussions" around illegal export of plastic waste, after China's 2018 ban on waste imports and changes this year to the Basel Convention on plastic waste exports, which begin enforcement in 2021.
Those rules prevent exports of more difficult to recycle plastic waste to countries outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. "It makes sense that the European Union assumes its responsibility and deals with the plastics waste generated in Europe," she said. "This is very much in lin e with our plastics strategy and circular economy approach."One plastics industry group at K seemed to endorse that approach. The German VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association, in an Oct. 15 statement released at the K show, said that it supported "a stop on exports of plastic waste to countries outside the EU which have lower environmental standards than Europe."
We should pay attention to the recycling work of the plastics industry. It is not just suitable for manufacturing plastic bottles and use, and then discards those and destroys the ecology. It should be able to recycle those into new products and achieve the recycling economy of the plastics industry.