No wonder people are getting excited about the circular economy. Treating ‘waste’ as a resource and creating reuse and recycling loops for thousands of everyday products will have a dramatic effect on production and value chains, saving energy and materials.
As well as dealing with how Member States improve the efficiency of their recycling, the European Commission is also looking at sustainability criteria for a range of consumer products. One of these criteria is recyclability. For plastic packaging this is critical: a packaging product which can be easily collected, sorted, dismantled and which produces high quality recyclate, without sacrificing its performance, is valuable.
While waste management is a large part of the circular economy, and preparation for recycling and reuse targets matter enormously, the origin and design of a product are also fundamental. If we want the products we buy and use to be better for the environment, we need to think about where they come from.
It’s here that plant-based products can provide answers. These products can contribute significantly to reducing CO2 emissions. Furthermore, recyclable plantbased plastics fit better with the mitigation strategies of global climate change initiatives (such as the Paris COP21 summit later in the year) as they not only reduce emissions but effectively absorb carbon. This absorbed carbon is then immobilized in the technical loops proposed by the circular economy. Added to these two properties (recyclability and renewability) are the inherent benefits of plastics: they are lightweight, durable and versatile.
Citizens are gradually becoming more aware of renewable plastics, especially after initiatives such as Coca Cola’s plant bottle, which will soon be 100% bio-based. We still need forward-thinking brands to show us the way forward. Their actions are to be applauded, given the fact that sustainability is still low on the shopping list of most consumers, who value low prices and good quality over a product’s environmental impact. That’s why we need the help of legislators.
If we want to continue using plastic products sustainably we must stop sending them to landfill and we must become better at collecting and sorting them. Separate collection of plastics is inevitable, and the sooner we invest in educating citizens and providing the necessary infrastructure across the whole of the EU, the better. But legislators could also look to facilitate the switch from fossil to renewable products.
Bio-based polymers are undoubtedly the future. But right now they make up only a fraction of the plastics on the market. To achieve sustainable and responsible growth in the bioplastics industry Braskem advocates further work on standards and certification, but also a circular economy that incentivises plant-based products: a circular bio-economy.
If the legal framework gets it right, the EU’s position as a leader in sustainability and innovation will be secure for many years to come.