PLASTICS AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Circular Economy Resolution passes European Parliament’s Environment Committee / PlasticsEurope welcomes landfill restriction plans but questions eco-design proposals / “Recycling difficult”
The European Parliament’s Environment Committee (ENVI) has called on the European Commission to present new legislation by 2015 that would set binding reduction targets for municipal, commercial and industrial waste. The legislation, it said, should endorse the “pay as you throw” principle; prioritise separate collecting schemes to promote the use of secondary raw materials; increase recycling targets to at least 70% of municipal solid waste; introduce a ban on landfilling of recyclable and biodegradable waste by 2025; and impose a ban on all landfilling by 2030.

Calling on the Commission to draw up a regulatory framework for urban mining in existing landfills, the committee also proposed establishing an environmental permit system for the recycling industry based on self-monitoring and external auditing. All of the proposals, it said, should address Europe’s specific waste challenges as a step towards achieving a circular economy. “As Europe is more dependent on imported resources than any other region in the world, moving towards a circular economy is an economic and ecological win-win scenario,” lead MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen said after her resolution was adopted by the committee on 17 June.

The multi-faceted ENVI resolution follows up the newly elected Commission’s plans for a circular economy package that was tabled jointly with a legislative proposal on waste disposal but withdrawn a couple of months later – see Plasteurope.com of 19.12.2014. Commission first vice president Frans Timmermans said at the time the proposed package would be dropped from the executive’s 2015 work programme and replaced with “more ambitious” legislation in 2015. Plastics industry associations said they regretted the delay.

In their 17 June vote, the environment committee MEPs additionally called on the Commission to promote a life-cycle oriented approach towards product policy and eco-design. They would like to see a review of eco-design legislation by the end of 2016, broadening its scope and covering all product groups. In their view, criteria such as durability, reparability, reusability and recyclability should be key. The committee also wants the Commission to draw up measures to eliminate planned obsolescence.

“One step closer to Zero Plastics to Landfill”
PlasticsEurope (Brussels / Belgium; www.plasticseurope.org) welcomed the ENVI vote, which it said brings the industry’s concept of “Zero Plastics to Landfill by 2025” a step closer. Plastics producers support a landfill restriction covering all recyclable and recoverable waste. “From the experience of member states that have already successfully introduced a landfill restriction, we know that only a restriction for recyclable and other recoverable waste is able to provide the legal certainty required for necessary investments in waste management infrastructure,” the association’s executive director, Karl-H. Foerster, commented.

“The concerns that some may have, that such landfill restriction would promote only energy recovery, are not supported by facts,” Foerster said. In PlasticsEurope’s calculation, from 2006 to 2012, the amount of post-consumer plastic waste going to landfills was reduced by 26%. As a result, plastics recycling rose by as much as 40% and energy recovery increased by 27%.

Regarding ENVI’s proposal to extend the scope of eco-design legislation, PlasticsEurope is less enthusiastic. Designing a product with the sole aim of improving its recyclability may not have an overall positive impact on the environment, Foerster suggested. He pointed out that modern food packaging, for example, often consists of a multi-layer film made out of different plastics, which is hard to recycle, but nevertheless offers “huge benefits” for both people and planet. “If such packaging were not available, food producers would have to use far more material in order to provide the high level of protection required, thereby increasing its environmental footprint,” the PlasticsEurope director remarked.

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