Plastics Europe calls for INC-3 redirection, emphasizing waste management over reduced production
09 Nov 2023 — The Chemical Industry Association (VCI) and Plastics Europe Germany (PED) warn against losing sight of achieving circularity as the main goal for the UN Global Plastics Treaty ahead of the third (INC-3) of five rounds of negotiations, the next of which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, November 13-17.
The plastics treaty aims to end plastic waste by 2045 by transitioning the plastics-value chain into a circular economy. “Achieving this goal requires various complementary technologies beyond just recycling,” Alexander Kronimus, managing director for Climate & Circularity at Plastics Europe Germany, tells Packaging Insights.
Kronimus highlights that technological advancements involve reducing unnecessary material usage, such as redundant packaging, and improving environmentally sustainable product design to facilitate the repair, reuse and recycling of plastic products.
GAIA and other civil society organizations are also watching out for attempts to undermine the treaty with a focus only on cleaning up plastic waste instead of mandating ambitious plastic production cuts.
“No matter how much money and time we throw at clean-ups, better recycling, waste management, and other downstream approaches, the more new plastic is being produced, the more impossible it will be for these damage-control measures to keep pace,” a GAIA spokesperson tells us.
But Kronomus believes investing substantially in modern waste management systems for collection, tracing and sorting and in plastic recycling facilities is crucial. “Furthermore, it is essential to adopt alternatives for fossil resources, like biomass, CO2 and chemically recycled materials to enable a climate-neutral feedstock base,” he continues.
Alexander Kronimus, managing director Climate & Circularity at Plastics Europe Germany.Recycling over reduction?
Kronimus highlights that without political support, the market pull factors alone will not be sufficient to meet the circularity targets in time. “That is why the plastics treaty has to establish strong market incentives to increase private investments in these technologies.”
“This could be achieved by increasing the demand for recycled materials through ambitious recycled content targets and by facilitating the scalability of chemical recycling by an agreement on technology neutrality and a suitable mass balance approach verifiable by third-party certification. This is important for the negotiations in Nairobi and the upcoming decisions within the EU on legislation such as the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) and the End-of-life Vehicle Directive,” stresses PED’s managing director.
However, the associations are critical of moves to impose blanket restrictions on plastic production. Wolfgang Große Entrup, VCI’s general manager, points out: “Questioning plastics with all their advantages as a material is going in completely the wrong direction. They are indispensable for sustainability and climate protection in many areas, for example in wind power and solar systems.”
“It is crucial to exhaust all possibilities to produce plastics from non-fossil raw materials and to consistently recycle them at the end of their use. For this to become a reality everywhere in the world, we need to promote the entire range of recycling technologies.”
Ingemar Bühler, general manager of PED, adds concerning the advantages of plastics: “It must be our concern to avoid waste as much as possible. But this goal must not lead us astray: Replacing plastics with other materials only makes sense in a few exceptions and often leads to a worse ecological balance.”
Transition roadmapExpert opinions vary on whether plastic recycling or reduction should be leading the treaty negotiations.
Last month, Plastics Europe introduced the “Plastics Transition Roadmap,” which lays out the trade association’s industry plan to reach a circular economy with plastics, featuring net-zero emissions and fossil-free plastics production.
In Europe, 19.5% of all plastics are already made from fossil-free and circular raw materials. The “Plastics Transition Roadmap” now contains concrete measures, milestones and targets to increase the proportion of circular plastics further.
“According to this roadmap, circular materials from biomass, recycled materials, and carbon capture and utilization could potentially replace 65% of fossil resources in plastics production by 2050. It is a living document to be updated regularly to integrate progress and developments,” says Kronimus.
“To meet European climate and circularity targets, we must prioritize material-efficient product design, promote reusable systems and create conditions for sustainable investments. This also includes investments in modern recycling technologies, implementing ambitious recycling targets, EPR, a gradual ban on landfills and fostering circular business models,” he explains.
Within the roadmap, Plastics Europe also outlines short- and medium-term actions for political decision-makers at the national and EU levels, which aim to boost sustainable investments and accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral circular economy in Europe. These include obligatory recycled content targets within the EU Packaging and PPWR and the LCA Directive.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder and chief changemaker at A Plastic Planet, tells Packaging Insights that Plastics Europe’s Plastics Roadmap does little to achieve the reductions needed to truly impact the plastic crisis, the devastating pollution we witness and the impact of plastic chemicals and particles to human health.
“It’s like asking the world’s most prolific arsonists to supply more fire extinguishers. The industry needs certainty, not more pledges, and certainty comes with strong policy. As an entrepreneur, I believe in the power of good business, but impacting the health of your customers is never good business.”
“We have a narrow window of optimism with the INC process of the UN Global Plastics Treaty,” stresses Sutherland. “The two focuses of attention, surprising many, are the rapid scaling up of reuse and the known impact on human health,” continues Sutherland.
“These two sit perfectly together. We need to take less resources and less energy. We need to create less waste with less chemicals. The rapid introduction of returnables will tick every box and deliver on every ESG [environmental, social and governance] commitment of the big corporations.”
By Natalie Schwertheim
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