Last week the European Union published its Plastics Strategy, in large part a response to China’s recent decision to ban imports of low grade plastic waste.
The strategy, titled ‘A European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy’, sets ambitious targets to increase the recycling of plastics within the European continent and curb the consumption of single-use plastics in European markets.
The measures launched by the EU include a goal for all plastic packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030. Under the new strategy, the EU stated it will increase demand for recycled plastic content among manufacturers and improve its recyclability by introducing new rules on packaging.
In many ways, now is the perfect opportunity to bring the issue of plastics recycling to the fore. China’s ban, coupled with the tremendous reaction to the BBC’s acclaimed nature documentary, Blue Planet 2, has seen the issue of plastics pollution enjoy a meteoric rise up the political agenda.
Several weeks ago the UK Government announced its own long-term 25 Year Environment Plan, which also centred on the reduction of plastic waste. Launching the strategy, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by 2042, and said that the government would work to encourage manufacturers to take responsibility and rationalise the types of plastics they use.
The UK’s own environment officials estimated that meeting ambitious recycling targets would bring benefits totalling billions of pounds, suggesting a 65% target by 2030 would save almost £10bn over a decade in waste sector, greenhouse gas and social costs.
Every year, Europeans generate 25m tonnes of plastic waste, but less than 30% is collected for recycling. The EU wants 55% of all plastic to be recycled by 2030 and for member states to reduce the use of bags per person from 90 a year to 40 by 2026.
According to Frans Timmermans, the vice-president of the European Commission, the EU is targeting a reduction in the use of throw-away items such as drinking straws, plastic bottles, coffee cups, cutlery and takeaway packaging.
Announcing the Plastics Strategy, Timmermans said: “We can’t export these plastics any more to China. The knee-jerk reaction is that we will have to burn or bury it here. Let’s use this opportunity to show we can also recycle it here.”
An extra €100 million of financing will be made available to drive investment and innovation in the industry, in order to stimulate an internal single-market for recycled plastic to make the business case for plastics recycling more compelling.
As one of the UK’s most technologically sophisticated recycling companies, Casepak welcomes the ambitions of the European Commission to ensure that all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030. In addition, bringing about new rules to ensure that plastic products are designed to be recycled or reused more effectively will help the public to recycle more, and will make it easier for the recycling and waste management sector to improve recycling rates too.
We also welcome the commitment to set new quality standards for sorted plastic waste and recycled plastics, which will make it much easier to recycle plastics into a high-quality product.
At present it is unclear whether the UK will transpose the EU’s Plastics Strategy into domestic law. In order to ensure that recycling companies in the UK are able to compete and trade with companies on the European continent, it would make sense to ensure that our legislation mirrors that of the EU, so that barriers to trade can be reduced or, hopefully, eliminated.
Given the threat that plastics pollution poses to our environment, any measures that increase plastic recycling should also be welcomed and embraced by the industry, and the general public.