The packaging sector in the European Union (EU) is calling on lawmakers to create the right enabling policy framework to help accelerate the transition to a circular economy in Europe.
1. Close-loop recycling
European Fruit Juice Association (AIJN), Natural Mineral Waters Europe (NMWE) and UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe, together with leading NGOs, including Changing Markets Foundation and Zero Waste Europe emphasise the need to ensure resource-efficient waste management systems to enable close-loop recycling.
Recent reports have illustrated that post-consumer recycled PET from beverage bottles is increasingly used by non-food sectors (textiles, automotive, etc.) to boost their environmental sustainability credentials.Nicholas Hodac, Director General of UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe
The problem, Hodac explains, is that bottles are being recycled (“downcycled”) into other, lower grade applications. As a result, the new material created by this process will no longer be recyclable for food grade applications, breaking the recycling cycle.
For beverage bottles, the first elements of such an enabling policy framework already exist with the introduction of mandatory separate collection and recycled content targets in the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive.Patricia Fosselard, Secretary General of NMWE
Across Europe, the collection of beverage packaging among countries is very diverse. Currently, 12 countries have implemented DRS and their collection rates are significantly higher than those countries without this collection scheme.
However, Fosselard defends that a number of additional policy measures are still needed for beverage producers to be able to meet those EU targets and move further towards a closed-loop system.
2. Fair access to recycled materials
Recognising that the EU Circular Economy Action Plan has the ambition of accelerating the transition to a circular economy, the packaging sector is also calling for a “priority access”. In practice, this means the implementation of a mechanism that would guarantee a “right of first refusal” to beverage producers. This would facilitate their fair access to the food-grade recycled materials coming from the products they placed on the market and which were successfully collected.
The sector believes that by having the right of preference for these materials, they can be used again as recycled content for new beverage packaging. This legal mechanism to guarantee a ‘’right of first refusal’’ to beverage producers would enable them to comply with the mandatory EU targets for the incorporation of recycled PET (rPET). Ideally, it would also meet their more ambitious voluntary pledges, such as UNESDA’s Circular Packaging Vision, of achieving 50% rPET in 2025 and 100% in 2030, as well as NMWE’s commitments to achieving 50% rPET by 2030 towards fully circular packaging.
According to AIJN, Changing Markets Foundation, NMWE, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe and Zero Waste Europe, the shift towards truly circular products and packaging can only be successful if each producer invests in the design for recyclability, collection and incorporation of its own (recycled) materials, without free-riding on others’ efforts.
‘’It is time to raise EU ambitions and define “high-quality recycling” . Introducing such a definition in the EU legislation will incentivise investments in recycling infrastructure and foster resource efficiency across the whole production of products and packaging materials,” urged Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe.