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EU plastic strategy will not eradicate the uphill situation fully

The EU Council and Parliament have reached a provisional agreement on a new directive setting restrictions on certain single-use plastic.

EU plastic strategy
Figure: The EU plastics strategy is “certainly going to help improve the situation,” but it is not going to solve the plastic pollution problem.

The strategy calls for all plastic packaging placed on the EU market to be either reusable or recyclable, and more than half of the plastics waste generated in Europe to be recycled by 2030. It is also putting in place legislation to restrict single-use plastics and microplastics, which are plastic particles under 5mm in diameter.

The widespread media attention given to plastics pollution has caused in what some in the industry describe as a very public ‘war on all plastics’.

It all may sound optimistic but there are some extended hurdles on the horizon.

“The plastics industry won’t be hit by the strategy, it will instead see it refocus on materials that are easier to recycle.”

Graeme Smith, Innovation and Sustainability Manager, Mondi

The circular economy strategy has already affected the design of plastics products, including the selection of raw materials like pigments and additives, says the European Ecological and Toxicological Association of Dyes and Organic Pigments Manufacturers (Etad).

The challenge for pigment suppliers is providing products with better technical performance and, at the same time, a sustainability profile that can fulfill the needs of the EU plastics strategy. It will be difficult for some pigments to stay on the market and they will have to be replaced by alternatives, says Etad.

“With the emergence and consolidation of new recycling technologies, we expect less pressure on the plastics to fit the traditional recycling technology but rather pressure on developing and scaling up recycling technologies to fit the types of plastics and their specific additives,” Flame Retardants Europe says.

The EU plastics strategy is “certainly going to help improve the situation,” but it is not going to solve the plastic pollution problem. Says Tatiana Santos, senior policy adviser for the European Environmental Bureau.

“The starting point can only be to substantially decrease production and only then, should criteria for sustainability be incorporated into the material design phase,” Tatiana Santos says.

“The plastics industry won’t be hit by the strategy, it will instead see it refocus on materials that are easier to recycle,” says Graeme Smith, Innovation and Sustainability Manager at a global paper and plastics packaging company, Mondi.

While recyclable additives are the main aim for many in the plastics and chemicals supply chain, some in the additives market consider new recycling technologies to be the solution.

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