EC assessment report of voluntary pledges published

EC assessment report of voluntary pledges published

March 6, 2019
Marcia González

The European Commission’s just-published assessment report on the voluntary pledges under Annex III of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy concludes there is strong momentum within the plastics value chains in favor of more recycled plastics

Improving the quality and economics of plastics recycling is a core objective of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. The Strategy announces a series of actions to achieve this objective, from improving product design to boosting recycled content in products to improving separate collection of plastic waste.

A key action of the European Strategy for Plastics is to call for voluntary pledges to use more recycled plastic materials in Europe by 2025. In Annex III of the Strategy, the European Commission (EC) called on industry to submit voluntary pledges in order to ensure that, by 2025, 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics find their way into products on the EU market.

By the end of 2018, 70 pledges had been submitted to the European Commission by companies and business organizations, including business organizations representing the full supply chains for the major plastic materials currently recycled in Europe, namely polyolefins (POs), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and expanded polystyrene (EPS).

Here, we will recap the context of the European market for plastics to date. We will outline the pledges received and assess to what extent the commitments by the pledgers contribute to achieve the 10 million tonne target. We will also provide an analysis of the conditions expressed by the pledgers to fully deliver their pledges by 2025 and considers conclusions and next steps.

The European market for plastics
The demand for plastics was 49.9 million tonnes in Europe in 2016, while plastic waste collected in Europe in the same year was 27.1 million tonnes. The demand corresponds to all plastic materials used in one year to make products, but not all of this becomes plastic waste during the same year.

Plastic packaging – which has a shorter lifetime (a few days to a few weeks) – quickly becomes waste and accounts for a large share of plastic waste in the European Union (EU). But many plastic articles have a longer lifetime – more than one year (e.g. construction materials, automotive parts, household appliances, etc). This plastic waste becomes available only after several years and for various reasons is often more difficult to recycle.

Out of the 27.1 million tonnes of plastic waste collected in Europe in 2016, 31.1% (8.4 million tonnes) went to recycling facilities. The rest went to incinerators or landfills. Out of the 8.4 million tonnes of plastic waste sent to recycling facilities, 5.3 million tonnes (63%) were sent to recycling facilities inside the EU, allowing European recyclers to sell approximately 3.9 million tonnes of recycled plastic materials to plastic converters and other customers in the EU market. The demand for recycled plastic materials in 2016 therefore accounted for 7.8% of the total demand for plastics.

Out of the 27.1 million tonnes of plastic waste collected in Europe in 2016, 31.1% (8.4 million tonnes) went to recycling facilities. The rest went to incinerators or landfills

Four main categories of recycled plastic materials were demanded in 2016 in Europe – namely POs, including polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), PET, PVC and EPS. The four categories of plastic materials account together for 21 million tonnes of plastic waste collected, which is 77% of the total. A significant share of plastic waste is not recyclable in a cost-effective manner with the current technology and sent to landfills or incinerators (disposal or energy recovery).

It is against this background about the EU market for plastics and recycled plastics that the pledges submitted by stakeholders have been analyzed.

The pledges submitted
Companies and business organizations submitted 70 pledges to the EC under Annex III of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. The pledges received mostly cover the four main categories of plastic materials that are currently recycled in Europe, namely POs (including PE and PP), PET, PVC and EPS (in decreasing order of yearly volumes sold on the EU market). A few pledges have been submitted for other plastic materials, including PS and ABS.

Pledgers include five organizations representing full plastics value chains, including Vinylplus (PVC), Petcore Europe (PET), PCEP (POs), EUMEPS (EPS) and SCS (PS). These ‘platforms’ represent the full supply chain for one or several plastic materials, including recyclers, producers of plastic materials, plastics converters, manufacturers of plastic parts or articles, brand owners, etc.

Other pledgers can be mainly distinguished between suppliers of recycled plastic materials, that is recyclers and producers of plastic materials, represented by organizations such as Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) and the European Recovered Fuel Organisation (ERFO) as well as individual companies such as Borealis, Indorama, Neste, Zeme, Lassila & Tikanoja, Aliplast, Plastix, Fischer, Kaneka Belgium, Dow Chemical and Repsol. Among the other pledgers are buyers of recycled plastic materials, including plastics converters with organizations such as PET Sheet Europe, EDANA and APE Europe, and manufacturers and brand owners.

Pledgers also included waste collectors (Hera Spa and LIPOR), retailers (COOP Italia and the Swedish Food Retailers) and other business organizations (Dansk Industri and Agoria).

Content and volume of the pledges
The pledges were assessed collectively and the data aggregated, which allowed for the protection of confidential data that was submitted by pledgers.

More than 50 pledges were expressed in tonnages of recycled plastic materials sold on the EU market or purchased and used in products in the EU by 2025. Many others were expressed as a percentage of recycled content in products. The rest includes actions to increase the uptake of recycled plastic materials in the EU, in particular commitments to only work with fully recyclable products by 2025 or to invest in new technology such as chemical recycling.

The assessment of the total volume of recycled plastic materials pledged by 2025 is exclusively based on the pledges expressed in tonnages, as communicated by the pledgers themselves. No interpretation or estimation was made from the figures submitted by the pledgers.

Any potential overlap between the pledges has been neutralized to avoid possible double counting, for example not to count twice the pledge by an individual company on the one hand and by its representative business organization on the other, or the pledge by the supplier on the one hand and the pledge by its customer on the other. In the case of recycled PET, for example, the pledges submitted by converters, brand owners and the Petcore Europe platform were not summed up. In this case, the amount retained is the pledge by the platform which represents the full supply chain, in doing so minimizing possible double counting and providing more exhaustive figures. It is worth noting that the potential overlaps between the pledges submitted by brand owners on the one hand and plastics converters on the other are actually quite limited in the case of recycled PET.

Based on this approach, the quantitative assessment of the volumes of the pledges is that suppliers of recycled plastic materials pledge to sell at least 11 million tonnes of recycled plastics on the EU market by 2025. Meanwhile, buyers of recycled plastic materials (such as plastics converters and manufacturers – i.e. the ‘demand side’) pledge to purchase and incorporate in products more than 6.4 million tonnes of recycled plastics in the EU by 2025.

The quantitative assessment of the volumes of the pledges is that suppliers of recycled plastic materials pledge to sell at least 11 million tonnes of recycled plastics on the EU market by 2025

Platforms such as Vinylplus, PCEP and Petcore Europe represent the full supply chain for one or several plastic materials. These platforms report tonnages of recycled plastic materials that are pledged to be used by the value chain to make new products by 2025, hence they are considered to belong to the demand side for the above assessment.

The volumes pledged by buyers of recycled plastics (the ‘demand side’) show an increase compared to the 3.9 million tonnes of recycled plastics incorporated in products in 2016, leading to an overall increase of more than 60% in the EU market for recycled plastic materials in 2025 compared to 2016.

However, the pledges from the demand side are still below the target of 10 million tonnes. The pledges by the suppliers of recycled plastic materials, if fully delivered, would lead to a sharper increase in the EU market, and – if fully absorbed by plastic products sold in Europe – even exceeding the 10 million tonnes target by 2025.

Conditions to deliver the pledges
This study analyzes the conditions expressed by pledgers as pre-requisites to fully deliver their pledges by 2025. Conditions therefore differ from ‘statements’ or ‘positions’, which are measures that pledgers deem useful to improve plastics recycling in Europe in general but not specifically required to allow the delivery of their individual pledge.

Here, the conditions most frequently expressed by pledgers are summarized. Conditions expressed by a small number of pledgers (one or two) are not taken into account as they are too specific.

The conditions expressed by pledgers are fully consistent with the analyses, objectives and actions included in the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy.

Market conditions
The condition most frequently expressed by pledgers from the demand side (e.g. plastics converters and brand owners) is market conditions. Many pledgers commit to use a certain volume of recycled plastic materials by 2025 provided the recycled plastics are available on the EU market in sufficient quantity and suitable quality, as well as at competitive prices. Several brand owners indicate that their pledge could even dramatically increase if new recycled plastics become available (e.g. new colors, food-grade recycled polyolefins) or if there is market acceptance for new standards (e.g. different colors and aesthetics) – without compromising hygiene and (food) safety.

Many pledgers commit to use a certain volume of recycled plastic materials by 2025 provided the recycled plastics are available on the EU market in sufficient quantity and suitable quality, as well as at competitive prices

The availability of recycled PET is particularly stressed by the PET supply chain. Recycling capacities of PET are currently not fully exploited, due to insufficient availability of sorted PET waste. Some pledgers therefore indicated that any shortage in the supply of recycled PET or sudden price increase could negatively affect the delivery of their pledge.

Greater collection and sorting of plastic waste
To supply recycled plastics to the EU market in sufficient quantity and quality, recyclers and plastics producers require a sufficient feed-stock, hence a sufficient amount of plastic waste collected for recycling. This is a condition very frequently expressed by pledgers from both the supply and demand side.

Many pledgers from both the supply and demand sides request increased collection of plastic waste, in particular separate collection of plastic packaging waste to feed mechanical recycling plants. Chemical recycling is frequently mentioned by pledgers as an upcoming game-changer to deal with mixed and contaminated plastic waste, but very few pledgers have integrated chemically recycled plastics in their pledged volumes by 2025 as the technology is only emerging. These pledgers however underline the need for more plastic waste to feed chemical recycling facilities in the future – in particular plastic waste that is currently not recyclable and sent to landfills or incinerators. Education and awareness campaigns on plastic waste littering and proper disposal are also mentioned by a few pledgers as necessary to improve the collection of plastic waste.

To deliver the predictable quality of recyclates required by their customers, recyclers and plastics producers have called for predictable quality of plastic waste. There is a consensus among many pledgers that more harmonized practices and standards for the collection and sorting of plastic waste across the EU are necessary to effectively secure the full delivery of the pledges. Better information on the chemicals and contaminants in plastic waste and easier shipment of plastic waste across borders are also frequently mentioned in this context.

There is a consensus among many pledgers that more harmonized practices and standards for the collection and sorting of plastic waste across the EU are necessary to effectively secure the full delivery of the pledges

Recyclable plastic materials and products
To secure a stable feed-stock of quality plastic waste, many pledgers require that more plastic materials and articles are genuinely designed for recycling and that they are designed in a way that makes recycling easy, cost-effective and predictable in terms of the quality of the output. PET bottles are mentioned by several pledgers as a best practice. The design issue is very frequently raised by pledgers dealing with plastic packaging. Many manufacturers or brand owners consider that design for recycling is a must, but several also warn that fragmented or diverging requirements at national or local level could put the delivery of their pledge into question.

Other conditions
Although this is not expressed as a pre-requisite to deliver their pledges, many pledgers indicate that their pledge could significantly increase if technology develops. A significant number of pledgers mention chemical recycling as a game-changer that is expected to be demonstrated and piloted at industrial scale in the near future. In this context, several pledgers stress the need for support programs for close-to-market R&D on sorting, pre-treatment and recycling technology.

A significant number of pledgers also indicate that they could exceed their pledge if incentives to plastics recycling and recycled plastics would be introduced. There are however no common views on what the incentives should be (e.g. incentives to recycled plastic materials versus products made of recycled plastics versus investments in new plants and facilities, or financial incentives versus public procurement).

A significant number of pledgers also indicate that they could exceed their pledge if incentives to plastics recycling and recycled plastics would be introduced

Finally, there are recurring calls by pledgers for common standards across Europe, such as definition of recyclability and recycling, certification of recycling plants, standards on collection and sorted plastic waste, and other methodological issues. Although these are not pre-conditions to deliver the pledges, these are perceived as key enabling conditions to ensure the 10 million tonnes target can be reached on the EU market by 2025.

Conclusion, way forward and the Circular Plastics Alliance
With 70 pledges received from industry, the pledging campaign under the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy gathered a true momentum in plastics value chains in favor of more recycling. Pledges received from suppliers of recycled plastics, if delivered as expected, are sufficient to meet the target of 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics finding their way into new products on the EU market by 2025.

However, buyers of recycled plastics (such as plastics converters and brand owners – i.e. ‘the demand side’) pledge to use in their products approximately 6.4 million tonnes of recycled plastics in the EU by 2025. Based on this conservative assessment of the pledges submitted to the ECn, the EU market for recycled plastic materials is expected to increase by more than 60% by 2025.

There is still a mismatch between the pledges from the supply and the demand sides. More needs to be done to ensure that the volume of the pledges from the demand side further increases so that the supply and demand for recycled plastics meet at 10 million tonnes on the EU market by 2025. To bridge the gap, further dialog is necessary between the suppliers of recycled plastics and their customers.

More needs to be done to ensure that the volume of the pledges from the demand side further increases so that the supply and demand for recycled plastics meet at 10 million tonnes on the EU market by 2025

There is an emerging consensus among pledgers that the key enabling conditions to deliver the pledges by 2025 are mainly better collection and sorting of plastic waste and greater recyclability of plastic materials and products.

The conditions expressed by the pledgers are consistent with the analyses, objectives and actions of the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, which aim to improve product design, boost recycled content in products and improve separate collection of plastics. A number of actions are underway. For example, the revised Directive on Waste foresees new separate collection obligations and improved producer responsibility systems. The amended Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive introduces targets for the recycling of plastic packaging of 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030. The agreement by co-legislators on the Directive on single-use plastic items provides that PET beverage bottles shall contain 25% recycled PET on average in each member state by 2025 and 30% by 2030. It also sets the target to collect separately 77% of single-use plastic beverage bottles by 2025 and 90% by 2029. The future revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, the development of standards on the quality of sorted plastic waste and recycled plastics, support to R&D in new sorting and recycling technology, guidelines on separate collection and sorting of waste or the development of criteria on recyclability and recycled content for Green Public Procurement and Ecolabel are additional examples of measures meant to support industry’s efforts to use more recycled plastics.

As underlined by many pledgers, voluntary actions to address the identified conditions will not be effective if taken by individual actors in the value chain and not coordinated. For example, improving the recyclability of plastic products requires that at least recyclers, converters and manufacturers agree on design guidelines and standards.

As underlined by many pledgers, voluntary actions to address the identified conditions will not be effective if taken by individual actors in the value chain and not coordinated

In this context, to promote the necessary dialog and cooperation within the plastics value chains, the European Commission announced the launch of a Circular Plastics Alliance on 11 December 2018. With this Alliance, the European Commission wants to provide plastics value chains with a space to collectively define the key voluntary actions to be taken in the short term and step up ambitions.

The Alliance’s ultimate objective is to improve the quality and economics of plastics recycling in Europe and ensure the 10 million tonne target is reached by 2025. The Alliance aims to strengthen the match between the supply and demand for recycled plastics. The Alliance will encourage further voluntary actions and investments in the short term. It will additionally report on the possible obstacles hampering the industry’s efforts to fully deliver their pledges and progress towards greater uptake of recycled plastics in Europe. Agreeing on a common system to monitor the use of recycled plastics in Europe is also essential to provide comparable and reliable data on the progress made towards the 10 million tonne target.

The Commission will later report on the progress made towards the 2025 target of 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics finding their way into products on the EU market.

Werner Bosmans, Director General Environment, will be giving a keynote speech at Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019 on the subject of the circular economy and the EU’s Plastic Strategy. The event will take place from Thursday 27 June to Friday 28 June, at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Frankfurt, Germany. To register for this highly focused and solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

 

 

 

 

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