Investment in smart waste management systems can make circularity a reality

Petcore explain how EU industry leaders, policymakers and the public can come together to build a truly circular economy.
Source: Adobe Stock

By Antonello Ciotti

Antonello Ciotti is President of Petcore Europe

31 May 2022

We all want to achieve circularity and carbon neutrality. Citizens demand it and the EU has set its sights on achieving it by 2050. However, if we are serious about delivering a truly circular Europe then we need to place some action behind the rhetoric. That means that everyone must get involved, starting with the industry and policymakers who need to create a clear and forward-looking regulatory environment.

With better, smarter waste management laws and recycling education, Europe could become a global leader in the circular economy. It needs packaging materials that offer a clear, sustainable, end-of-life option. Packaging that is recyclable, includes recycled material and has a low carbon footprint. By taking policy decisions based on science and developing a hierarchy for both recyclability and carbon the EU can ensure that we always use the simplest and most recyclable packaging option and materials with the smallest carbon footprint at production, during use and when being recycled.

Take polyethylene terephthalate, more commonly known as PET: it’s made to be remade and PET bottles and trays are fully recyclable as part of a circular economy. They are also light to transport and have a low melting point, which means they need less energy to produce and recycle. As Europe’s most collected and recycled plastic packaging, today, two out of three PET drinks bottles are already collected for recycling. By 2029, nine out of ten will be collected.

The irony is though, that we don’t receive enough bottles back. European PET recyclers have an unused capacity of 296,400 tonnes, with plants around the bloc able to recycle another 10-12 million more PET bottles each year. But we need more bottles returned for recycling – and we need EU policy to help us do this.

Ideally of course, in a circular economy, every PET bottle and tray could and should be recycled into new bottles and trays. If this isn’t possible then at the very least PET packaging should always be recycled. It’s nonsensical to allow fully recyclable PET to go to landfill or incinerators. The EU should take a lead from some of the more enlightened member states such as Austria, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, which have already introduced legislation to ban PET going to landfill.

“As Europe’s most collected and recycled plastic packaging, today, two out of three PET drinks bottles are already collected for recycling. By 2029, nine out of ten will be collected”

An EU regulatory framework and the acceleration of legislation to introduce separate collection schemes for PET would serve to bump up recycling rates and help us get our bottles back. It needs to be convenient for consumers, place value on products and be everywhere — in homes, workplaces, public buildings and in the streets and parks all around Europe. We know it’s possible as 10 EU markets already have PET collection rates of well over 80%. Germany currently leads the field with 97% collection thanks to the country’s deposit return scheme.

And let’s not forget the role of EU citizens. They are embracing sustainable practices in many areas of their lives and are passionate about getting involved in ending waste and closing the loop. Empowering all of us to separate and recycle our packaging is essential to realising a circular economy and to transforming the way in which we design, use, produce and recycle products in the years to come.

So there you have it. The consumer is ready, and the PET value chain also stands ready to go further. With the right policy environment we have the opportunity to achieve our joint goal of circularity and setting Europe on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050.

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This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group

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