Creating a single European market for waste recycling will be a game-changer, PCEP Secretary General tells the Ideas Festival

Brussels, 8 September 2020 – Treating Europe as a single market for waste, in the same way that we do for products, would be a game-changer in the drive towards a circular economy, PCEP’s Secretary General Venetia Spencer told delegates at the online Ideas Festival (IF2020).

Part of the challenge of making recycling work at an economically viable scale are the many variations in how it is done, from country to country and even between different regions of a country, Spencer said.

“If Europe can improve the harmonisation of EPR schemes, then we could start to see real shifts. We have to treat Europe as a single market, in the same way that we do that for products,” she said. “That’s why PCEP is calling strongly for the European Recovery Fund to invest into Circular Economy infrastructure.”

“If I look at how much post-consumer polyolefins we collected last year and then how much of that we sent to recyclers, it is clear that the volume is not yet as it should be. But we actually sent as much material to recyclers as capacity exists. What is needed is a lot more recycling capacity on the ground – but for recyclers to be able to invest in that infrastructure, we need a lot more certainty about supply.”

Spencer speaking as part of a panel at the online Ideas Festival 2020

Spencer said three factors would be critical in improving the recycling system in Europe. “We need to harmonise what we are collecting – and not just ‘plastic’, but rather sorting the individual polymers that are compatible together in order to make a higher quality recycled plastic.”

“We also need good, simple consumer communications. And instead of trying to unite all of the municipalities across all of the EU in using the same bags, we could make use of new technologies such as digital watermarking, that allow consumers to use their phones to tell them which colour bag to put their plastic waste in.

“And thirdly, we need to ensure that all the tools and levers being deployed to encourage recycling are working together towards circularity, rather than potentially pulling in different directions. There are a lot of different policies and activities happening across the recycling and waste management system, often implemented very fast, so we should make sure that none of them are actually counteracting each other.”

Spencer told delegates that PCEP has a very ambitious voluntary commitment to increase significantly the amount of post-consumer polyolefins recycled back into products – and in a very short time frame by 2025. “Even this year, with all the challenges of the pandemic, I see in the PCEP membership the absolute commitment to circular economy as the strategic long-term route for the plastics industry,” she said.

The session, entitled ‘Rethinking Packaging and Waste Management’ also featured panellists Mattia Pellegrini (Head of Unit at the European Commission’s DG Environment); Archana Jagannathan (Senior Director of Sustainable Packaging at PepsiCo Europe); Emmanuel Katrakis (Secretary General of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation, EuRIC); and Jean Hornain (Director General of recycled packaging organisation Citeo).

Bringing together 2,000 policymakers, academics, entrepreneurs and experts from across the globe, IF2020, organised by OPP, combines the traditional cultural aspects of a festival with high-level policy discussions focused on the Green Deal, digital transition, and Recovery Plan in order to discuss and present solutions to today’s societal challenges. You can watch the debates on OPP’s YouTube channel here.

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