Tue, Jul 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

EU plea for industry to reuse more plastic lacks bite

Following China’s retreat from waste plastic imports this winter, the EU has been unable to find uses for the tonnes of waste its citizens separate each year

By Alissa de Carbonnel and Geert De Clercq  /  Reuters, BRUSSELS and PARIS

Illustration: Yusha

The EU has pushed back a deadline for companies to volunteer to increase their use of recycled plastics in lieu of regulation, showing how difficult it is to end the continent’s reliance on developing countries dealing with its waste.

The pledges were due to have been made by the end of last month under a European plastics strategy unveiled in January, when China stopped taking the world’s waste due to pollution concerns, focusing minds on its environmental impact.

An EU official said that the deadline has been shifted to September after industry appealed for more time. That timeline makes the fallback option of legislation highly unlikely.

The EU recycles only a quarter of the 25 million to 26 million tonnes of plastics waste it produces per year and about half of that was sent to China, which uses recycled plastics to make products ranging from office furniture to cable coatings.

The European Council, the EU executive, wants 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics to be used in new products sold in the bloc by 2025 — quadrupling demand.

If company pledges do not tally up to that target, it has said that it would consider further measures, including regulatory action after December.

However, few new laws will be put forth next year because of elections for the European Parliament and European Commission presidecy — not to mention Britain’s scheduled exit from the bloc.

The European Council’s focus is on pushing through its proposal to ban throwaway plastics, such as cotton buds and plastic straws, and new labeling rules for plastic waste.

Without a mix of incentives and regulation to spur demand for the waste, industry sources said that there would be no sea change in the market.

Recyclers in Europe said that they are planning to scale up capacity, but to make it worthwhile, there need to be more buyers for recycled plastic closer to home.

In the meantime, they have found markets in other parts of Asia for just more than half the waste that used to go to China and said that much of the rest is being incinerated, raising the risk of backsliding in sorting efforts, which vary widely across the EU.

“If China no longer imports plastic waste, we cannot tell Europeans to stop sorting because we have no more buyers,” Suez SA chief financial officer and head of recycling Jean-Marc Boursier said. “The right answer is for authorities to change the paradigm and boost the incorporation of secondary materials.”

Divisions within the 28-member bloc and warnings from companies that incorporating recycled plastic would lower the quality of products and increase costs mean that enforcing the target is difficult.

Some companies have come forward.

Among the more ambitious, Volvo, owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co Ltd, has said that a quarter of plastics used in its models would be from recycled materials by 2025, while Danone said that its Evian plastic bottles would be made from 100 percent recycled plastic by then.

Austrian plastics maker Borealis, which makes plastics used in products from food packaging to cars, also said that it would invest more in coming years to produce “completely waste-based” recycled goods.

Companies from all along the plastics value chain have shown interest in the pledging campaign, the commission official said.

“We think it is possible to achieve this target on a voluntary basis,” they said.

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