Over the last few decades the packaging industry, too, has invested a lot of time and effort in optimising its products and processes with a view to recycling. Photo: Stora Enso
100 per cent recycling
In mid-January 2018 the EU Commission revealed a new goal: 100 per cent plastic recycling by 2030. At the same time, there is to be a reduction in the consumption of disposable plastic products. To achieve this target, the Commission has now invested EUR 250 million, and another EUR 100 million is to be spent on appropriate research by 2020. The EU has thus specified an overarching strategy in addition to the Waste Directive that was passed recently. The aim is to recycle 65 per cent of all packaging by 2025 and 70 per cent by 2030. The new directive is to ensure a high level of commitment and to provide greater incentives for material recycling.
EU: nearly 30 per cent of plastic is being recycled
The new plastic strategy that has been passed also includes reinforcing waste reception facilities at harbours and more stringent requirements on unmixed plastic collections. The EU Commission is working on the assumption that only just over 30 per cent of an annual 26 million tonnes of plastic weight is currently being recycled.
The new strategy is to simplify reuse and reduce costs. According to official estimates, this should lead to a reduction of around EUR 100 per tonne. Yet it would also mean building large numbers of new recycling facilities, which will cost money again. The plans are to be made generally more attractive for the plastics industry, which employs a workforce of 1.5 billion and generates revenues of around EUR 340 billion (in 2015).
Irrespective of the new regulations, EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger wants to initiate an investigation whether an environmental tax might be introduced that will contribute billions to the EU budget.
Germany: 80 per cent of packaging is being recycled
The packaging industry has been responding to critical questions from the general public for many years now and has steadily improved its products in terms of environmental requirements. By the time the European Packaging Directive was passed, packaging had already become a pioneering product in matters of responsible care and recycling. Since then recycling rates have risen, the cost of energy in production has substantially gone down, the use of material has been optimised, and the weight of packaging has been reduced. Packaging is valuable material and worth a lot. Moreover, it requires a good deal of energy input and therefore needs to be fed back into a cycle. Recycling and refilling systems have become better and better, and Germany has been setting an example in running good recycling schemes. It has the world’s highest recycling rates, and the share of material recycling is around 80 per cent for packaging.
The weight of a PET bottle has been reduced by more than 50 per cent over the last few decades. Photo: congerdesign, pixabay.com, pexels.com
The decisive element in all recycling systems is end-of-life thinking. Proper recycling can only be effectively supported if it involves thinking about waste disposal at every single stage, including the design and manufacturing of a product and its packaging. However, no broad generalisation is possible here. Refilling is not always ecologically reasonable, and neither is plastic always worse than other materials. It’s important to look at the use, impact and consequences from case to case.