For this Q&A feature for Plastics News Europe Ton Emans, president of Plastics Recyclers Europe, outlines how the European Commission can help the plastics recycling sector grow.
Can you explain how PRE is working with the European Commission regarding its plans for the Circular Economy?
PRE is monitoring the situation and follows the next steps in the revision of the proposal.
What would you like the Commission to do differently in terms of policy and regulation?
The current legislative discussion on the Waste Package is a good starting point. But we will not be able to solve all the market barriers for plastics waste by pure legislation.
If we want to be ambitious on the Circular Economy it is extremely important to further boost plastics recycling and to push it in the right direction. With the [correct] sorting, consumption of plastics recycling is the solution to the efficient waste management and marine litter.
For instance, the market of plastics waste must be structured and standardised to allow recyclers to produce recycled plastics in big quantities and stable qualities. This initiative can be launched and supervised by legislation but it is industry's core task to clear and harmonise the market.
Is the European plastics recycling industry receiving good levels of investment?
Europe is lacking sorting and recycling capacity. The EU-28 recycling plants can handle around half of the collected plastics, as the rest is exported. It is therefore one of our prerogatives to increase the European capacity in sorting and recycling facilities in order to recycle higher amounts of plastic waste.
Have low oil prices negatively affected plastics recycling demand in Europe? Do you think there are global economic risks this year that could put pressure on the recycling industry?
Lower virgin prices definitely have an impact on recyclates, however, lower exports to China could release some pressure on recycled material.
Since November 2015, we can observe a decline in the exports of plastics waste, which is a positive sign for the recyclers. This is linked to the economic slowdown in China.
China refuses to accept heavily polluted waste and does not want to be any longer the garbage [receiver] of Europe nor America. Critical for this situation was the introduction of the Green Fence, one of the first campaigns of China to enforce its more rigorous waste quality legislation.
How big an obstacle to the industry's development are the differences in plastics recycling infrastructure in EU member countries?
Lack of harmonisation of plastics recycling is the main obstacle for the development of the industry. Easing regulatory burdens and enhancing harmonisation are prerequisites to make the single market deliver its full potential and boost recycling.