The European Plastics System needs to adopt circularity and radical policies within the next five years, according to a report from Plastics Europe and SYSTEMIQ.
In the report, ReShaping Plastics – Pathways to a Circular, Climate Neutral Plastics System in Europe, it finds that a fully circular, net zero carbon emissions plastics system in Europe is possible, but achieving it will require radical innovation, ambitious policies and significant capital investment.
Cooperation between industry, government and civil society is the critical success factor underlying all of these.
The report focuses on packaging, household goods, automotive, and construction.
It found that current industry and policy actions will more than double circularity from 14% currently to 30% by 2030. This will lead to 4.7 million tonnes less plastic waste disposed in landfill or incinerators. However, this would still result in a highly inefficient system. It also wouldn’t align with the goals of the Circular Plastics Alliance, European Green Deal, or the Paris or Glasgow climate agreements.
The report also suggested there isn’t a magic bullet to reduce plastic waste disposal and greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, a combination of material design, plastic reduction, plastic substitution with other materials, plus mechanical and chemical recycling will be required.
But on top of this to adopt a full circular economy for plastics, multiple less mature, innovative technologies and approaches need to be deployed.
For all of this to work towards full circularity, the next three to five years are crucial. This is because long maturity cycles and capex lock-in for large infrastructure investments means that the decisions taken in the 2020s will determine whether the European plastic system will achieve full circularity and net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra president Jyrki Katainen said: “This rigorous and extensive report should act as a clarion call for all European stakeholders involved in plastics.
“One of the report’s key findings is that the European plastics system is already adapting to address the challenges of climate change mitigation and circularity, but commitments on behalf of industry and policymakers do not go far or fast enough to align with the goals of the European Green Deal or the Paris and Glasgow climate agreements. We must adapt and we must do so at pace.
“This report provides a roadmap to this critical transition, but it will be challenging so we must start now.”
The report can be viewed here.