IFAT Industry Insights

More plastics recycling—but not (only) voluntarily

A panel of experts at the IFAT impact Business Summit showed: although voluntary measures to increase plastics recycling—such as the Circular Plastics Alliance—are welcome, they will probably not be able to replace legally binding regulations.

The European Commission's Plastics Strategy provides, inter alia, for the use of ten million tons of recycled plastics per year in the EU from 2025 onwards. In September 2019, the Commission set up the Circular Plastics Alliance to manage the long road ahead. The alliance includes representatives from all parts of the value chain—including plastics manufacturers and processors, major retailers, and waste management and recycling companies. Currently, the alliance has more than 230 signatories.

Plastic Strategy
Recycling rates will not increase without binding targets Shutterstock, Sangaroon Sungkomsilp

Many users of plastics are still price-driven

“While such voluntary initiatives are important, they do not automatically create the necessary broad impact. Many companies do not participate because it is much cheaper to use virgin rather than recycled plastics," said Timothy Glaz, Head of Corporate Affairs at Werner & Mertz GmbH (Mainz/Germany). The medium-sized manufacturer of cleaning and care products—known for its Frosch brand—is considered a pioneer in the use of recycled plastic in its packaging. The most recent example is a fully recyclable stand-up pouch with a detachable sleeve, exclusively made of polyethylene. According to Werner & Mertz, the recyclate of such a product made of mono-material has almost the same quality as the original material.

Christian Kampmann, Managing Director of the waste disposal and recycling company PreZero (Porta Westfalica/Germany), agreed with Timothy Glaz in the online discussion. In his experience, up to eighty percent of companies using plastics are price-driven—a voluntary commitment will not help. “And while the consumer calls for more circular economy for products such as those from the Frosch brand, there are many products where consumers are not even aware that they contain plastics, which is why there is no public pressure,” emphasized Kampmann.

Dr. Andreas Bruckschen, Managing Director of the Federal Association of the German Waste, Water and Raw Materials Management Industry (BDE, Berlin/Germany) provided a further argument against the approach of the Circular Plastics Alliance. In his opinion, the requirements of the voluntary commitment are too general. “This already starts with the question of what types of plastics are included,” said Bruckschen.

Binding requirements are being developed

Irrespective of the pending results of the voluntary alliance, the EU is currently working on binding requirements for key products such as packaging, building materials and vehicles, as Werner Bosmans, Team Leader Plastics at the EU Commission pointed out in the discussion round. He reported that according to the EU Plastics Strategy, for example, all plastic packaging should be reusable or recyclable from 2030 onwards.

More recycling affordable under suitable conditions

Whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis: Would the waste management industry even be prepared to cope with much greater recycling in the medium to long term—both in terms of quantity and quality of the recycled materials? Christian Kampmann responded to this question by moderator Valérie Plainmaison from the European Federation of Waste Management and Environmental Services (FEAD): “In any case, we are prepared to make the appropriate investments. However, despite all the risk taking, we need conditions that these investments can pay off in the end.” And Andreas Bruckschen added: “The quality of the recyclates depends on the quality of the input. That's why we have to start with production—the key word is design for recycling—and work together along the entire value chain.”

Organizer: Federal Association of the German Waste, Water and Raw Materials Management Industry (BDE)

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