Driving Circular Plastics: Challenges, Progress, and Pathways in Europe

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by | Mar 21, 2024

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The pan-European association of plastics manufacturers, Plastics Europe, recently released a report titled “Circular Economy for Plastics – A European Analysis,” providing an in-depth understanding of the current state and future trends of the circular plastics economy within Europe. Current trends anticipate a gradual shift away from fossil-based plastics.

Key Findings

European plastics manufacturers introduced the “Plastics Transition” roadmap in 2023. Outlining plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the plastics system by 28% by 2030, with a goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The roadmap also forecasts increased utilization of circular plastics, aiming for 25% of European demand by 2030 and 65% by 2050.

Since 2018, the circular plastics economy in Europe has made significant advancements. Post-consumer recycled plastics have seen a 70% surge, reaching 6.8 million tons in 2022 and making up 13.5% of all plastic resins converted into new products.

While the recycling rates for plastic waste improved to 26.9% in 2022, challenges persist. The incineration of plastic waste has seen a 15% increase, with 25% reaching landfills. Highlighting a need for investment in efficient recycling infrastructure and a decisive shift from the linear fossil-fuel-based feedstock model to more circular feedstocks, such as recycled plastics, bio-based feedstock, and carbon-captured plastics.

Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of Plastics Europe, emphasizes the importance of the latest ‘Circular Economy for Plastics‘ report, highlighting its expanded scope and in-depth data. While acknowledging the momentum towards circularity, Janssens stresses the urgent need to address the substantial incineration of plastics waste, crucial for accelerating the transition. Without increased availability of circular plastics feedstocks, the ambitions outlined in the ‘Plastics Transition’ roadmap and the EU Green Deal may not be realized.

A Path Forward

Governments and corporations can utilize technologies such as IoT sensors and blockchain-enabled tracking to monitor the entire lifecycle of plastics from production to disposal. Enhancing data accuracy and granularity enables informed decision-making and targeted interventions to optimize waste management and boost recycling efficiency.

Addressing knowledge gaps and promoting innovation in circular plastics solutions requires collaborative efforts across governments, industry players, and research institutions. Public-private partnerships can facilitate technology transfer, joint research projects, and capacity-building initiatives, fostering a culture of collaboration and collective action.

Establishment of regulatory frameworks establish by the EU government incentivizing circularity while discouraging plastic waste generation through measures like extended producer responsibility schemes, eco-design requirements, and fiscal incentives for using recycled materials. Public awareness campaigns and consumer education initiatives promote sustainable consumption patterns, encouraging the adoption of circular products and packaging alternatives.

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