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Packaging Waste and Sustainability Forum 2018

Packaging Waste and Sustainability Forum 2018
by Ellen Thornton at 14:58 in Circular Economy, Emerging, Environmental, Packaging

On the 5th, 6th and 7th of June this year, the annual packaging waste and sustainability forum was held in Brussels. The days were filled with interesting talks from members of the European Commission, producers and retailers, industry representatives and producer responsibility organisations (PROs) who addressed topics such as the new EU recycling targets and EPR scheme compliance difficulties.

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The opening address came from the Director General for Environment at the European Commission, Daniel Calleja Crespo. He addressed the new EU waste legislation revision, commenting that it is the most ambitious yet. The new minimum waste recycling targets will be implanted in all Member States. For clarification, there is now a single definition of waste under the legislation, where there were previously 4 different definitions. The legislation extends to PROs, for which there should be new horizontal binding, improved transparency and governance as well as good circular and packaging design through modulated fees and sufficient collection systems, which needs to include online sales. The commission is working on guidelines for best practices which will include OECD research on modulated fees. There is a new EU strategy to targets plastic packaging; in comparison to paper packaging, 80% is recycled, where only 40% pf plastic packaging is. Hence, there has been a charge proposed of €0.80 to be payed by Member States to the EU budget per kilo of non-recycled plastic produced. There has been a growing usage of single-use plastics and these account for 50% of all marine litter. A study on European beaches was carried out to find the 10 most commonly found single use items; the strategy proposes different measures to target each of these. There will be market restriction for those with alternatives, appropriate labelling for those such as wet wipes that shouldn't be flushed down the toilet, voluntary agreements for funding and separate collections for single use bottles. There is a need to act at the EU level to avoid fragmentation of the single market. Furthermore, there is a need to include higher levels of recycled plastics in new products as the current average is only 6%. Plastic packaging needs to be made more circular which needs to be done through developing alternatives for single-use plastics throughout the whole supply chain. There needs to be a clear, stable, legal framework at the European level to facilitate transition. The principles of the Circular Economy Action Plan commitment should lead Europe towards a circular economy.

The second talk was entitled Circular Economy Package ‘(CEP), Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD): Is Europe on the Right Track?' and the speaker was Liliana Nichita, the Director of the Federation of Intercommunity Development Associations in Romania. In Romania, there is no direct link between PROs and local authorities, unlike in other Member States. There is an Environmental Guard who charges for each ton of packaging waste that is not recycled, this was introduced around 10 years ago and is similar to the new proposed plastics tax. In the EPR system in Romania, producers looked for the cheapest solution, not necessarily the most sustainable which caused the system to collapse. The system is still not good today and there is very little transparency. However, now PROs fees and clients must be published on their websites to improve the transparency. Between December 2015 and June 2016, fees increased 8 to 16 times, but since then, turnover in the packaging market has increased yearly. They are currently meeting the minimum targets set but PROs won't spend any more money to exceed the targets. Validation of data in Romania is very important, as well as management of all wastes along the entire year.

Next up was an interesting insight into Japan's Resource Circulation Policy for Plastics, given by Yusuke Inoue, Deputy Director, Recycling Promotion Division at The Ministry of the Environment in Japan. Energy recovery in Japan is very high, around 57%, due to minimal space available for landfilling. For recycling, there are separate collection systems available in supermarkets. There is on average between 11 and 20 different collections where consumers bring back their washed and separated waste. An EPR scheme was set up around 20 years ago and since then, industry has agreed to only make transparent PET bottles with easy to remove labels for ease of recycling. Furthermore, when consumers bring their PET bottles back to the store, they can receive back ‘electric money' which they can spend in the shop. There is around 100% material recycling for bottles in Japan and around 80% of that can be used e.g. to make a new PET bottle. They use a combination of mechanical, chemical recycling and thermal recovery which has resulted in increases in quality, quantity, efficiency and acceptance by people. 81% of people in Japan say separation of plastics is the easiest system for them.

Following on, the next talk addressed the Stakeholder's standpoint on agreed changes to the PPWD. Virginia Janssens, Managing Director of EUROPEN, The European Organisation for Packaging and the Environment​ spoke about the industry's perspective. They've requested measures to improve and clarify the rules of EPR schemes to address the situations, such as that in Romania. There needs to be an increase in cost effectiveness, with accountability of EPR which should cover all materials and not just cherry-picked ones. She states how industry wants all EPR schemes to work in a transparent and fair way. Smaller Member States also need to be able to measure recycling and there is importance in the stage of processing that recycling is measured at. In addition, modulated fees are mentioned in the new legislation but not all countries, such as Romania, are ready for this, considering the difficulties experienced in introducing an effective EPR infrastructure. With the new, high target for PET recycling, collection of PET bottles needs to be improved. There is a balance between voluntary commitments and legislation and we need to be careful that one doesn't disincentivise the other. Finally, key changes to be made would be: policy coherence, proportionality and better regulation.

On the same subject, Adriana Rodrigo, Sustainable Products Campaigner from Zero Waste Europe spoke about shifting to a more circular economy in Europe. The recycling economy and circular economy are different things. The previous EU legislation was for a recycling economy, new legislation is a step in the direction of a circular economy. There is a need to close the plastic tap and this provides a monetary incentive as well as an environmental one to keep resources in the loop. The targets are still by weight which may be a problem and can increase use of plastics as they are lighter. There is a possibility that the high 90% PET bottle target will cause a shift to use of more flexible packaging, which isn't included in most recycling or deposit return systems (DRS). A DRS would be good to reduce litter, and this has been shown by evidence, but it would make sense to harmonise and have an EU wide DRS. Such a system would have to be fair and not just favour PET bottle; instead a holistic approach is required, not just one that is isolated on one material.

The next topic was the strategy on plastics in the circular economy which was addressed first by William Neale, DG Environment at the European Commission. In the Circular Economy Action Plan, over 85% of Targets have already been achieved and work has begun on the rest. Plastic wasn't dealt with for a long time until the circular economy and now EPR provides an incentive to more towards better design. The difficulty is keeping value in the loop when it comes to singe use plastics; currently only 6% of plastic on the market comes from recycled material. Sylvain Lhôte, Director General of CEPI – Confederation of European Paper Federation spoke about how we can learn from the paper industry. Paper is sourced, renewed and recycled in Europe through collective action of industry working with municipalities. There should be 3 key elements for such a system: design for recycling separate collection and quality standards. Currently in plastics, separate collection is not effective, when it is, recycling rates should increase. Following the success of recycled content in the paper market, it would be best to let the market work for plastics instead of introducing a mandatory minimum recycled content.

Then, we heard from a range of packaging material industries concerning what they are doing to achieve their recycling targets. Alexis Van Maercke, the Secretary general from APEAL, spoke about the steel industry. He explained how using recycled steel saves up to 70% energy hence it is economic and easy to recycle; all steel plants are also recycling plants. Steel is the most recycled packaging in Europe at 79% in 2017 with 75% of steel products ever made still being in existence today. Multiple recycling makes steel a permanent and circular material. Next, talking about the aluminium industry was Maarten G. Labberton from Packaging Group, European Aluminium. He stressed how communication towards households is key and needs to be implemented in a consistent way. Although, the new targets set by the commission are lower than expected and many countries are already exceeding them. Following this, Jean-Paul Judson, Public Affairs Manager at FEVE, the European Container Glass Federation. In the glass industry, there is a great difference between fast moving goods, such as beer bottles which have a short life time in comparison to those with a longer lifetime such as whisky bottles. Fast moving goods create more of a supply of recycled glass; there is a market for recycled glass but not enough supply. In terms of deposit schemes, these are not intended for reuse and there has been no correlation shown between high recycling of glass and deposit systems.

For a producer's perspective, we heard from Allan Dickner, Acting Packaging Development manager at IKEA of Sweden AB. IKEA have made 91% of their packaging fibre based, although plastic is still used, and they recognise its importance. When making products, key things to consider are: function, form, low price and sustainability. IKEA is no longer using wooden pallets which has made a huge saving in CO2. Furthermore, expanded polystyrene and PLA have been phased out as there is no recycling available for this to the consumer. It is important to realise you can only reduce material weight by a certain amount; the worst-case scenario from a consumer and a sustainability point of view would be the prospect of a damaged product. Next, we heard from Gloria Gabellini, Public Policy, Government Affairs and Communications Manager EU at PepsiCo. She talked about the companies aims such as designing packaging to be 100% biodegradable, recyclable or compostable. Currently 9% recycled PET is used in the products, which is above average, but they want to increase this further. They find that the film sleeves around containers are still being found in PET waste streams and these should be made recyclable. Gloria stressed that a holistic approach is required for packaging to address all waste streams. In addition, all stages of the products life cycle need to be addressed to make it fully circular. Another producer representative, Juan Manual Banez Romero, Public Affairs Manager Europe from Mars who spoke about the change in sustainable strategies. Until 2015, they had been focused mainly on resource efficiency and reducing material weight but now they use a lot of lightweight packaging that is not recyclable. Since 2015 their focus has shifted to reducing waste at the end of life as well as reducing the carbon footprint. Overall, Mars has increased their recycled content by 17% and reduced their packaging weight by 5.2%. A key point is that for something to be recyclable, you need the material to be recyclable, available infrastructure and consumer participation. Without any one of these three, the system will not work. Furthermore, producers need to consider the balance between material efficiency at the start of life and material volume at the end of life; for example, a highly efficient material at the start of life may create a large volume of waste at end of life, hence you need to find a happy medium.

Finally, we heard about the complexities of multiple EPR systems for multinational corporations. Carina Anderson, Product laws and standards specialist – producer responsibility development, at IKEA of Sweden AB, explained the difficulties of this area. For the products requirement process, the legislation and/or PROs in each country have different product requirements which the producer needs to identify and develop into the products. Authorised representatives in other countries can be helpful in the reporting process as product categories tend to vary for the same EPR scheme from country to country. IKEA is currently managing 8 different types of EPR: packaging, WEEE, light sources, batteries, paper and cardboard, textiles, furniture and household chemicals; which ones apply also vary from country to country. Carina's key message was a call to harmonise EPR schemes for the sake of global producers.

It's great to hear such a range of opinions on new EU targets and measures for packaging and packaging waste. Here at Lorax, we specialise in EPR reporting and understand the difficulties producers face. We provide an expert consultancy service to help you understand your obligations in addition to exclusive software to build reports and calculate fees for you. Please contact us here for more information.​

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