How can the increased collection and recycling of plastics enable a more circular economy for Europe?
It’s a question that’s more pressing than ever. The European Commission’s recently adopted Plastics Strategy notes “the way plastics are currently produced, used and discarded fails to capture the economic benefits of a more ‘circular’ approach” to production and consumption.
In our industry, for instance, we use bottles made of a lightweight, recyclable plastic - polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - to preserve the unique qualities of natural mineral and spring water from source to consumer. Drink bottles made of PET are already the most recycled of all plastic packaging materials. But we need to do more to ensure that every bottle has a second life.
Key to realising this goal is increasing the collection rates for PET bottles. These currently vary considerably across the EU. Some member states collect over 90% of all PET bottles, while others manage less than 20%. This is despite industry-led efforts to establish and contribute to national recovery and recycling schemes.
Our industry aims to work towards an EU average collection rate of 90% by 2025. However, member states currently track collection rates in different ways and there is no harmonised data specifically related to the collection of PET drink bottles. That is why we are encouraging the European Commission to take action on the gathering of polymer-specific data. By knowing exactly how many PET drink bottles are currently being collected across the EU, we can have a better idea of where we are starting from - and how we can deliver on our 90% collection rate pledge. Increasing the collection of PET bottles will have a direct, tangible impact on litter levels, but it also enables another key step in the circularity process - recycling.
Used PET bottles are a valuable resource. They can be integrated into the production of multiple new items - from textiles and car parts to a new generation of bottles.
Collection is a priority area. Policymakers, industry and citizens can play a vital role in tackling the unacceptable phenomenon of litter.
While increased collection of high-quality PET will pave the way towards greater usage of this valuable material, action in other areas is just as important. Investing in research and development on product innovation is another key priority for our industry and of course there is a need to engage with consumers, who are important partners in catalysing Europe’s shift towards a more circular economy. As an industry, we are committed to doing more on all of the above.
From the producer who places a product on the market using recyclable packaging and the consumer disposing of it responsibly, to the municipal authorities collecting it or the recyclers turning it into a valuable new resource - we all have a role to play in making sure every single PET bottle gets a second life. EFBW members are committed to moving forward on this issue. We hope others will join us on the journey.
Jean-Pierre Deffis is president of the EFBW