Europe’s fight against plastic waste will help the EU achieve its ambitious climate target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The EU estimates that the decrease in oil-based plastics production would reduce 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent from Europe’s Europe carbon footprint and avoid environmental damage, which would amount to 22 billion euros by 2030.
“The ban on 10 articles is huge. This is not greenwashing, ”says Clara Löw, an analyst at the Öko-Institut. “As part of the European Green Deal, many other measures are underway to contain plastics and establish the circular economy as a basic principle of the European plastics industry. Even most Europeans don’t realize how much is happening. “
However, critics note that the EU’s conspicuous 10-item ban only covers one percent of European plastics production. They also indicate that the total amount of plastic waste in Europe has not decreased – something the new measures are designed to reverse.
Zero Waste Europe says that the production of plastic waste in Europe will only decrease if sanctions like the 10-item ban and other measures take their full effect.
Carmine Trecroci, economist and recycling expert at the University of Brescia in Italy, said external factors such as the price of oil are a big influence; As long as oil is cheap, as it has been in recent years, it is also plastic production that makes it all the more difficult to contain. The EU plastics industry is big business, employing 1.5 million people and generating € 350 billion in 2019. Trecroci said the powerful Italian plastics lobby fought fiercely to block the 10 item ban and then slow it down and water it down . In the end, however, the EU agreed to the ban.
While EU countries are still producing large amounts of plastic, the amount of post-consumer plastic waste being sent for recycling has increased by 92 percent since 2006, according to PlasticsEurope, a European association of plastics manufacturers. Meanwhile, landfilling – by far the dirtiest waste treatment option – has decreased by 54 percent.
Since January 1st, plastic producers in the EU have had to pay a levy of 800 euros per ton of non-recycled plastic packaging waste. Pressure from Brussels has also led to voluntary measures in the private sector: Coca-Cola Europe, for example, is well on the way to producing 50 percent of its plastic bottles and cans from recycled content.
According to the EU, only 5 percent of the value of plastic packaging currently remains in the economy after it has been used for the first time. That costs the European economy between 70 and 105 billion euros annually, she estimates.
“A closed cycle”, says Löw, “is when every material, every product and its components are used for as long as possible, repaired or reconditioned in the event of damage [and] repeatedly recycled into secondary raw material without losing the quality of the material. “
Wilts of the Wuppertal Institute added, “Europe is a continent with few raw materials like oil and metals, so a recycling industry that bypasses the need for new raw materials is both an industrial strategy and an environmental program.” He and others say that recycling and recovery facilities will drive recycling in Europe as plastic waste becomes more valuable, waste incineration is appropriately taxed, and more products are standardized for recyclability. “There will be a doubling of the sorting and recycling facilities in the next five years,” said Wilts.
A mandatory minimum amount of recycled plastic in bottles increases the value of the waste as manufacturers need and pay for plastic.
Europe’s new plastics industry dates back to the mid-1990s, when the principle of extended producer responsibility was anchored in EU law. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), argued in a paper by Zero Waste Europe, is “critical to incentivizing product redesign with a circular economy in mind”.
Trecroci notes that EPR is already a reality to a considerable extent in Northern and Central Europe. In Germany, companies pay annual fees of 1.5 billion euros that finance the transport, sorting and recycling of their waste materials. “We are at an earlier stage in southern Europe, but here too EPR will be fully applicable in a few years,” said Trecroci.
In addition, the EU passed a directive in 2019 that provides that by 2025 all EU countries will integrate 25 percent recycled plastic in clear plastic bottles and 30 percent in all plastic beverage bottles by 2030 because plastic producers need it and will pay for it.
“This creates a demand for high quality recycled material,” said Wilts. Soon the same principle – minimum amounts of recycled content – will apply to the automotive and construction industries, he said.
The vast private sector network required to create this new circular economy is only now gaining momentum, Wilts said. “The recycling industry will finally produce the raw materials for industrial production,” he said. “But we’re not quite there yet.”