Dr Markus Steilemann believes that 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

The European Plastics Converters (EuPC) association has warned PlasticsEurope of the consequences of placing risks of structural change unilaterally on the shoulders of plastics converters, without closely looking into alternative possibilities to increase recycled content in packaging.

The comments come as the European Commission (EC) proposes a mandatory EU recycled content target for plastics packaging of 30 per cent by 2030, a move endorsed by PlasticsEurope. The organisation welcomes the upcoming revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD), EU legislation that it calls key to the transition to a circular economy for plastics.

EuPC supports the commitment, calling the target legitimate and achievable, but only as long as the responsibility is shared by the whole value chain.

PlasticsEurope claims that its members are already working towards this 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 such a mandatory target, adds the association. For example, its members’ planned investments in this technology and infrastructure range from €2.6 billion ($3bn) by 2025 to €7.2bn ($8.5bn) by 2030 in Europe.

Dr Markus Steilemann, president of PlasticsEurope and chief executive of Covestro, stated: “The world must embrace the circular economy concept as the key to climate neutrality, resource conservation and environmental protection. 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.”

Virginia Janssens, managing director of PlasticsEurope, added: “We need a harmonised EU policy framework that provides certainty and incentivises further investment in collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure and technologies, including chemical recycling.

We must harness the power of the single market. However, systemic change requires concerted collaboration. 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.”

EuPC president Renato Zelcher warned that the introduction of product-related mandatory recycled content threatens supply bottlenecks as is the case in the rPET EU market today.

“As long as recyclates required by the market are not yet available in sufficient quantities and qualities, there is a big risk of quality impairments and marketing bans for our plastics packaging,” he commented. “In the food packaging sector, for example, the technical and legal prerequisites for the use of recycled materials are not yet in place. This would seriously jeopardise the economic existence of thousands of medium-sized plastics processors and packaging users in Europe and their investments into circularity.

“Circular Economy is a shared responsibility. We therefore call for a fair distribution of legal obligations along the value chain and a recognition of chemical recycling by the EU and national authorities. To safeguard against supply bottlenecks, plastics producers should be obliged to put a correspondingly high proportion of recyclates or circular polymers on the EU market. Legal substitution quotas for virgin plastics are also the means of choice for this. Appropriate concepts are already being worked on.”

EuPC managing director Alexandre Dangis added that in order to make the closing of the cycle as economical and climate-efficient as possible, we mainly rely on the further expansion of established mechanical recycling in the packaging sector through appropriate design-for-recycling and high quality collection and sorting of waste.

“Under no circumstances should efforts to expand separate collection and design-for-recycling be pushed back in the hope that new technologies will make them obsolete in the foreseeable future,” he said. “The EC has not yet put forward a proposal for recyclate use quotas, but is currently examining various regulatory approaches to increase recyclate use. A first proposal is expected by the end of the year at the earliest.

“We demand that all approaches are subject to an unbiased scientific impact assessment in order to avoid economic damage as well as ecological mistakes. Plastics converters are open to further discuss and work with polymer producers and all relevant stakeholders in the months to come in combination with the on-going work of the EC.”

Sounding a warning, Martin Engelmann, director general for the German Plastic Packaging Association, said that he does not believe such a ‘one size fits all’ approach would fit here, because the technical potential for the use of recycles differs greatly depending on the type of packaging.

“Furthermore, the risks of the grand transformation must not be shifted unilaterally onto the manufacturers of plastics packaging,” he said, echoing the views of EuPC. “Circular economy only succeeds in shared responsibility. Therefore, madatory recycled content quotas should include the obligation of plastics producers to bring a correspondingly high proportion of recyclates to the market.”

Agreeing with Engelmann, Paul Christiaens, analyst for international relations manager at Afvalfonds Verpakkingen, added that individual brand owners will also be held responsible.

“At this point in time, they and their EPR schemes have very limited control over the route from the recycler to a new application,” he said. “Having mandatory quota means that both other industries will have to start to collect and recycle more of their waste (as packaging supplies around 75 per cent of the recyclate) and the sale of recycled plastics packaging waste to other industries has to come to an end.

“Furthermore, there is not enough recycling capacity for plastics packaging in the EU, so that there is a large gap to be filled.”