The European Commission (EC) has published a Green Paper aimed at triggering a discussion on how to make plastic products more sustainable and reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste.
Environment commissioner Janez PotoÃnik said: “Managing plastic waste is a major challenge in terms of environmental protection, but it's also a huge opportunity for resource efficiency. In a circular economy where high recycling rates offer solutions to material scarcity, I believe plastic has a future.
“I invite all stakeholders to participate in this process of reflection on how to make plastic part of the solution rather than the problem.”
Plastic is often perceived as a cheap and disposable material in our "throw-away" society, he added, and recycling rates are therefore low. Half of all plastic waste generated in Europe goes to landfill, which should be avoided as plastic can contain hazardous components and disposal can result in undesirable emissions and concentrated, polluting residues, explained PotoÃnik.
The European plastics industry welcomed the Commission's Green Paper on plastic waste, saying it could act as a catalyst for joint action amongst different key players to achieve the vision of ‘Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2020'.
“The review of the Landfill Directive in 2014 offers an opportunity to make a step-change in the EU's resource efficiency policy,” said Dr Wilfried Haensel, executive director of PlasticsEurope.
“The inclusion of a landfill ban on plastics waste in the Directive will stimulate the plastic recycling sector and will make more plastic waste available for efficient energy recovery to produce electricity and heat. This ultimately leads to the creation of jobs and helps Europe to be less dependent on energy imports.”
Every year in Europe, 10 million tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste are buried in landfills. Instead of landfilling, these plastics could be a resource for recycling and energy recovery, Haensel explained. While voluntary initiatives are indeed very effective in many cases, a ban on the landfilling of plastics waste will undoubtedly show positive results sooner.
EuPC's managing director Alexandre Dangis also welcomed the launch of the Green Paper. “At times when future polymer sourcing for European plastics converters remains unpredictable, and uncertain, there is a clear need to optimise the collection and sorting of plastics waste in order for the plastics industry to be more resource efficient,” he said.
“The need to incorporate more plastics recyclates in final applications will only increase the sustainability of plastics products. We are looking forward to analysing further the proposal of the Commission and discussing opportunities within the plastics value chain.”