European Commissioner to launch green paper on plastic waste and recycling


A green paper is to be launched by European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik looking to generate a debate on plastic waste as part of his resource efficiency agenda.

The Environment Commissioner wants to help the plastics industry by giving them a resource efficient framework to help investment decisions.


Speaking at the PolyTalk 2012 conferences in Wiesbaden, Germany, he said: “I will soon be launching a broad debate on plastic in the context of resource efficiency by issuing a green paper on plastic waste in the environment. I want this to trigger a reflection about what we must do to make full use of the benefits of plastic products while minimising their potential negative impacts.

“Unfortunately, even today, nearly 50 per cent of plastic in Europe goes to landfill. This is broadly equivalent to 12 million tonnes of crude oil that we dump on landfills every year. I know this is a situation that you in the plastics industry also deplore. The other half goes to recovery, mostly energy recovery, and to a lesser extent recycling.

“I know that we can, and we should, do better because underneath those European figures there are six Member States that have virtually eliminated landfilling, recovering 90 per cent of plastic waste, while others still bury 80 to 90 per cent.

“There are two major objectives we need to pursue. Obviously, landfill rates must go down as quickly as possible, but it is also important to switch from energy recovery to increased recycling. Plastic recycling rates are far too low across Europe with an average of just 24 per cent. Today, even in countries with high recovery rates, there is simply not enough plastic available for recycling because most of it goes to energy recovery.”

He added that a dominance of energy recovery over recycling is not acceptable in the medium-term. This is because recyclers are mostly SME’s providing employment.

Janez Potočnik added: “Plastic recycling alone is expected to create around 160,000 additional jobs in the EU27 assuming a recycling rate of 70 per cent by 2020. Recycling technology has moved forward quickly. But it still has some way to go. Whereas, thanks to EU legislation, about 85 per cent of every car is now recycled, only 25 per cent of every new car is built with recycled materials, and much of this difference is down to plastic. Too often plastic is down-cycled, not recycled.

“Recycling truly starts when a product is made and this shows us that from a policy maker’s point of view, product policy and waste policy go together. Looking at products and waste independently does not make much sense. A lifecycle thinking means adopting a holistic view on all phases of a product’s life…

“…Throw-away consumption may be good for turnover in the short term, but I am sure that this is not the image that you want for your products and your industry. I know that you do care. But even if you did not, even if you were prepared just to ignore the signals and drive down the road of ever more intensive and linear uses of resources, we are not far from the moment when you would drive straight into a wall. When you would have no choice but to change.”