Voluntary sustainability agreements and the increasing interest in ‘chemical recycling’ as part of a circular economy have been major themes at PlasticsEurope’s annual IdentiPlast event in London.
The two-day conference, organised in collaboration with the British Plastics Federation, focused on the recycling and recovery of used plastics.
Delegates considered European plastics manufacturers’ voluntary commitment to hit a 60% rate for reuse and recycling of plastic packaging by 2030. They also discussed the EU’s recent Circular Economy Directive and the Single Use Plastic Directive, which is due to be adopted formally within days.
PlasticsEurope president Javier Constante, a senior executive with Dow Europe, said regulatory moves and voluntary sector agreements had both followed pressure from society and NGOs: “There was a tsunami of actions forcing us to take urgent action.”
Vice-president Tom Crotty (pictured top left), a director for Ineos, said the industry’s voluntary commitments were essential: “We’ve always had a history in the industry of trying to make sure we are in the front line, doing things before we are required.”
Crotty believed that a realistic roof for plastic packaging recycling was around 40%, arguing that the rest could be met in future with the “technical challenge” of chemical recycling, by which waste polymers are processed into monomers to create new plastics.
He was supported by Jim Seward, who chairs the World Plastic Council. “It makes more sense to get to molecules that can be fed back into the production process rather than going into a fuel stream,” he said.
“A fuel stream is still better than landfill, but this is a key area where innovation technology is critical to get as far up the hierarchy of value as we can. Energy recovery is very important and will remain so for a period of time, but it is bottom of the list in terms of how you calculate value and economic sustainability.”
Crotty secured the loudest applause on the first day when he identified NGOs as key players – but criticised some of their attitudes.
“I’d like to see regulators taking a position that welcomes the fact we need to work together, but we are not seeing that from all the NGOs. Some are saying ‘we don’t want to work with the plastics industry because they are the baddies’. I’m sorry, but there are no baddies – everybody needs to get together to solve these problems.”
Daniel Calleja Crespo, director-general of the European Commission’s environment directorate, called for a partnership to deliver a sustainable future. “We will never succeed in this transition if we don’t work together. We need more sectors and we need more citizens, entrepreneurs, local communities, leaders and businesses to meet our objectives,” he told delegates.
“This is not about demonising plastic. It is about ‘circularising’ it and bringing everyone on board.”
Defra resources minister Therese Coffey, in a video address recorded for the event, said: “I welcome industry-led efforts to reduce plastic waste in the environment. Voluntary agreements such as the UK Plastic Pact are trail-blazing initiatives to bring together businesses across the plastic value chain to tackle plastic waste.”
She added it was the Government’s responsbility put in place the required policy and regulatary frameworks to reinforce such agreements.