European Business Summit: How will the new circular economy package influence Danone plastic recycling policy?

This contribution forms part of a series of articles which One Policy Place will publish in the next few days. We report from the European Business Summit which took place from 22 to 23 May in Brussels. Our articles summarise some of the sessions and detail the developments for policy and business which were highlighted by the speakers.

How will the new circular economy package influence Danone plastic recycling policy? with Philippe Diercxsens, Packaging & Environment Manager, Danone (This mini-session was part of the Sustainable Development Goals Conference at the EBS 2017)

Most products made by Danone are packed in plastics.

The rise of plastic production has risen exponentially in the last 50 years because of its characteristics: re-useable, light, and easy to use.

However, the plastic share in the carbon budget in 2050 will be 15% – up from 1% in 2014. Currently, 65% of plastics are based on materials made from fossil fuels, 8% are bio-based, and 27% are recycled.

Still, 51% of all plastic packaging material ends up in landfills.

Philippe Diercxsens from Danone presented a few examples of what the company had done to lower the environmental impact of their plastics.

First of all, they respect “design for recycling” rules. While working together with the entire PET (polyethylene terephthalate) value chain, manufacturing constraints were imposed so that producers know what is allowed, conditionally allowed and prohibited to make PET recyclable.

Secondly, they substituted packaging material, citing the example of a milk product that used to be sold in plastic pouches. The pouches were light-weight, so they easily fly away and produce litter.

The company has now substituted this design for a cone-shaped paper package, which has a thin layer of wax on the inside. This is more easily collected and recycled.

However, he says that they still have not found a substitute for the classic polystyrene yoghurt cups, which recyclers refuse to recycle due to the material being too light and dirty. Also, there is no market for recycled polystyrene.

Possible alternatives for this include PET2, polypropylene, board, and PLA (polylactic acid). The latter material is currently used in Germany, the US and Canada.

They are also in the process of de-coupling plastic packaging from fossil feedstock, by making use of bio-plastics.

Bioplastics are plastics derived from renewable feedstock. The first generation used the edible part of plants, but the second generation – where their work is currently focussed – used the non-edible part.

In the future, algae from the sea and other microorganisms could be used. PLA is an example of a commercial bioplastic, which can however only degrade in industrial plants, not in household composts. There was also Biopet, which might replace PET in the future.

Another issue Diercxsens highlighted was consumer education.

In the EU, there were big discrepancies in plastic recycling rates – In Malta over 70% of plastics end up in landfills, whereas in Austria, for example, almost none do.

More awareness could be raised by giving consumers access to the correct collection and recycling infrastructure, but this can also be achieved by including information on the package about how the material is supposed to be recycled.

The revision of the European packaging directive would set a target that 50-60% of plastics needed to be recycled – double the previous level.

The previous rate could be reached by collecting and recycling plastic bottles, but the higher target meant that all plastics had to be included.

There also needs to be a global effort to increase the practice of recycling plastics.

80% of all marine litter comes from India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, for example, but they had no laws concerning it.

Furthermore, in Russia, there are barely any laws on waste management, which leads to a low rate of only 3-4% of plastics being recycled. Recycling is also hindered by the fact that there is no proper collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure in place.

However, recycling centres are the bottleneck.

Producers put new products on the market at all times without consulting recycling centres beforehand. In these, only five or six flows of recycling are present, meaning that only five or six types of plastic could be recycled.

For recyclers, only the most valuable plastics were worth recycling, and while technology existed to recycle more, the cost is too high to recycle up to 30 categories of plastics.

There are also no mandatory laws for the use of recycled plastics, since governments do not wish to harm food safety standards, and most plastic packaging has come into contact with foodstuffs.

However, Diercxsens noted that there have been positive developments. 

For instance, he said, France would start to collect all types of plastic in the same bag in the near future, and similar plans existed in Germany and Spain.

Find more information on the packaging and packaging waste Directive here.

Find more information on the landfill of waste Directive here.

Source: One Policy Place

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