16 July 2017 Business

EU pressure builds on unchecked use of plastics in packaging

As part of its support for the circular economy, the EU is preparing a policy on how plastics should be used and supporters of printed cartons are delighted.

The carton printing industry is welcoming a new pressure group, Rethink Plastic Alliance, which aims to help shape an EU policy document 'Strategy on Plastics in the Circular Economy' which is due for publication at the end of the year.

The Rethink Plastic group is part of a wider movement using a reduction in the use of plastics worldwide to reduce the environmental impact on the oceans and landfall of uncollected plastic packaging and products. It points to the success of the Plastic Bags Directive in reducing the use of single use carrier bags across the EU and growing consumer concern about the impact of plastic waste in the environment.

Tony Hitchin, general manager Pro Carton, the organisation representing carton converters and suppliers, comments that the open letter Rethink Plastic has published “Fits well with our ‘cartons don’t create plastic waste’ approach.”

The new pressure group calls for an absolute reduction in the use of plastic “We cannot recycle our way out of our plastic pollution problem.” it says. It wants legislation to ensure that plastics are responsible by design, that is designed for recyclability and reuse. And it wants better management of plastic through processors, users and local authorities to encourage collection and recycling throughput Europe.

This chimes with Marks & Spencer’s Project A initiatives around increasing the recycling of plastics and a switch to increase both plastic content and to use plastics built on a single product group.

It also follows publication of McKinsey’s Ocean Report into the proliferation of plastic waste and its impact. It pointed out a ‘plastics paradox’ in that the drive towards thinner materials at the same time made these less economically viable to collect after use.

Pro Carton's own report into the importance of sustainability of packaging, commissioned from Smithers Pira, detailed the wish of major brands and retailers in five key European countries to use recyclable or renewable materials and to reduce the weight of packaging. Folding cartons were according to brand owners the most sustainable packaging format. However, flexible plastics were considered the most lightweight packaging material and rigid plastic the strongest according to the report.

It is against this background that Rethink Plastic is seeking a meeting with European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans in September to press its case as the policy document is finalised.

The strategy on plastics is part of the action plan to drive towards a circular economy, the use of plastics being identified as one of five priority areas. Packaging accounts for 40% of the plastics consumption in the EU, the largest share. It wants to promote a switch to non fossil fuel derived raw materials, to lower technical barriers to recycling.

Currently only 40% of plastic waste is recycled according to the EU. This compares to more than 82% of paper fibre that is collected for recycling. Incineration and landfill are the most popular destinations for plastic, while half of the material gathered for recycling is exported.

The aim is to reach the same levels for recycling packaging waste (75%) by 2030. with a maximum of 10% going to landfill.

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EU to rule

EU to rule

Pro Carton has welcomed efforts by the EU and pressure groups to highlight the problems caused by plastics in packaging relating to contamination of the oceans. The EU is scheduled to issue directives by the end of the year, aiming to curtail irresponsible use of plastics.

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