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Plastics Europe claims “significant advances” in biennial circularity report, sparking heavy criticism

#Plastics Europe claims “significant advances” in biennial circularity report, sparking heavy criticism

20 Mar 2024 — Plastics Europe has published its biennial circularity report, finding that recycled plastics now account for 13.5% of new plastic products manufactured in Europe and that the availability of recycled content has increased by 70% since 2018. The report also found that nearly 27% of plastics were recycled in 2022 and claims that more plastic waste is being recycled than entering landfills.

According to the association, the findings mean that the European plastics system is halfway toward the interim goal of using 25% of plastics from circular sources in new products by 2030.

However, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) has slammed the report, highlighting that incineration remains a widely used waste disposal tactic and that reuse should be prioritized if meaningful progress is to be made.

“It’s shocking that, in Europe, we still burn more waste than we recycle, with incineration rates increasing by 15% since 2018 to 16 million tons. This data shows a concerning lack of progress and suggests that recycling alone may not be enough to achieve a more circular economy regarding plastics,” says Janek Vähk, zero pollution policy manager at ZWE.

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“While enforcing landfill targets and requiring waste sorting before burning are important and needed, they’re not enough. To truly address sustainability, we must focus on reuse and phase out all non-essential plastics, as our recent report recommends.”

Incineration issues
The report, titled “The Circular Economy for Plastics: A European Analysis,” provides data on European plastics production, conversion, consumption and waste management and includes an analysis of plastics production from non-fossil sources and recycling technologies.

However, the data also highlights several major challenges undermining the plastics industry’s progress toward circularity.

Virginia Janssens, managing director of Plastics Europe, says: “While the data confirms the shift to circularity is firmly established and picking up pace, it is frustrating that we still incinerate so much plastic waste when this potential feedstock is desperately needed by our industry to accelerate the transition.”

“Without urgent action to increase the availability of all circular plastics feedstocks, we cannot maintain the current rate of progress and realize the ambitions of our ‘Plastics Transition’ roadmap and the EU Green Deal.”

“To meet the growing demand for plastics manufactured from circular feedstocks, we need to massively upscale the collection and sorting of post-consumer plastics waste and increase the availability of biomass and captured carbon.”

Chemical recycling
The data also highlights that the uptake of circular plastics varies by industry sector, with the strongest demand coming from packaging.

The report shows that in 2022, circular plastics were produced from several sources: the largest source (13.2% of all plastics produced) was mechanically recycled, while only 1% came from bio-based feedstock and 0.1% was chemically recycled.

“The continent-wide roll-out of chemical recycling, as a complementary solution to mechanical recycling, is essential to meet ambitious mandatory recycled content targets for applications and industries that require high-quality plastics,” says Janssens.

“To incentivize the necessary investments and ramp up the deployment of chemical recycling in Europe, we urgently need a green light and clarity from EU policymakers. We need legislative acceptance of chemical recycling and the adoption of a mass balance attribution method based on a fuel-use exempt model.”

However, Lauriane Veillard, Chemical Recycling & Plastics-To-Fuels policy officer at ZWE, says that these suggestions are “highly unrealistic” and that chemical recycling and carbon capture are both expensive and unproven technologies.

“Instead of betting on these technologies, we rather insist on the importance of reuse for certain sectors, particularly for packaging,” she says.

By Louis Gore-Langton

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