European circular economy initiatives: new opportunities for business

The Commission adopted a couple of legislative drafts to assist the member states’ economies and businesses towards more circular and carbon neutral development. The EU has already adopted the “green deal”, which is aimed at ensuring that all packaging in the EU market is reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030. Besides, the Commission also brings much-needed clarity to issues of bio-based, bio-degradable and compostable plastics.  

European Commission’s proposals reflect new approaches to circular economy in the member states, which include dealing with the packaging waste, bio-based, bio-degradable and compostable plastics, as well as measures on carbon removals. A few years ago, the EU started to make plastics fully circular by limiting and even banning some of the most polluting single-use plastics, e.g. straws, cutlery, cups, plates, food containers, etc. However, for the first time the Commission establishes targets for packaging waste reduction in the member states, with certain mandatory reuse targets in selected packaging groups for economic operators and business.

Packaging and plastics
Presently, the entire packaging sector in Europe is to be put under circularity’s requirements: then, the goods shall be packaged sustainably and the packaging materials should be disposed of in a better way. Just a couple of examples: when ordering something online, it comes a massive half-empty box with double layers and a lot of excessive packaging to make the product look larger than it is; this familiar picture shall be in the past. Then, as a rule, in a café, instead of being served on regular plates, one gets food in single-use containers so a customer leaves behind plenty of waste.
On one hand, packaging recycling continues to increase, as it has been done during past ten years; but on the other hand, the generated wastes are actually growing faster than recycling. In 2020, about 65% of packaging waste was recycled in the EU-27; it means that still 35% is incinerated, land-filled or even littered, which equals nearly 30 million tones of lost resources. The packaging waste is addressing presently by the Commission; without radical measures to terminate the trend, the volume of plastic waste could increase by 46 percent by 2030.
Hence new Commission’s proposals in the packaging sector and in the national economy are formulated in the motto: “less waste, more value”: the approach is by bringing innovation in the way goods are delivered through the “reuse-refill” manner; besides these green solutions can create additional jobs. Good news to citizens is that with the new rules each consumer will be able to save about €100 per year.
Commissioner Sinkevičius reviled recently some statistics: firstly, the headline targets are to gradually reduce packaging by 15% by 2040 in each EU state, compared to 2018, which would lead to an overall waste reduction in the EU of almost 20% already by 2030. Secondly, for reuse, the EU adopts mandatory targets for companies to reuse or refill packaging, in sectors like beverages and takeaway meals; however, at the same time, there are exemptions for SMES and micro-enterprises. Thirdly, the EU will create a mandatory deposit return systems for plastic bottles and aluminium cans under strict conditions that about 90 percent shall be collected. Finally, the Commission proposes to reduce packaging to the minimum: just more goods, not the wastes; hence, a total “packaging ban” has become an evident necessary, like miniature shampoo bottles in hotels; there is a lot of opportunity in reducing packaging in food services too.
Source: comments by Commissioner Sinkevičius in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_22_7323

Reducing “over-packaging”
Presently, over-packaging is a nuisance to the states and is increasingly damaging to the environmental quality; hence, the EU proposals aim at reaching three goals:
= First, reducing packaging where it makes sense; e.g. limiting over-packaging in online retail, and no packaging for smaller quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables.
=Second, producing more reusable packaging. Presently, it is so far impossible technically and economically to recycle all producing wastes; hence, it is better for the environment to use reusable packaging through a well-functioning reuse system, than single-use options. In perspective, businesses will have to offer some products in reusable and refillable packaging: e.g. by 2040 most coffees-to-go will come in a reusable cup, or a cup people would bring ourselves.
= Third, all packaging should be easy to recycle and be made -as much as possible- from recycled material. A single, harmonized label for all packaging will tell how and in which bin to recycle it; the member states will have to implement deposit return schemes for plastic bottles and metal cans.

Bio-based and biodegradable plastics
New Commission’s framework clarifies exact conditions for this sort of plastics to producers and consumers and proposed a set of criteria for packaging design to ensure that reusable national packaging systems will be fully and practically functional.
In order to help consumers to be more sustainable, the Commission specifies conditions on which packaging belongs to which recycling bin; hence, every piece of packaging will carry a label making it clear in which waste stream it should go. Besides, waste collection containers will carry the same labels, and the same symbols will be used in all EU states.
And lastly, the Commission insists that all packaging shall be compostable; only limiting to some types of packaging on fruits, vegetables and/or thin plastic bags. This initiative is within the EU new policy framework for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics, which are becoming more and more common in the EU and around the world.
These plastics represent a viable alternative to conventional plastics; products labelled ‘bio-plastics’, ‘bio-based’, ‘bio-degradable’ and ‘compostable’ are all different, and they all present different challenges and opportunities. E.g. bio-degradable plastic shall have an indication on how to biodegrade it, under which circumstances and where. On the other hand, compostable plastics are different in the sense that some materials could be compostable at home, some require industrial facilities, and consumers shall be aware of that!
The Commission wants to ensure that bio-based plastics shall be known to consumers, e.g. to the extent that such products contribute to a sustainable substitution of fossil resources, with no harm to the environment. These proposals will bring benefits to environment, to consumers (to deal with over-packaging) and give a start for additional innovation in the green transition involving the packaging sector.

Carbon removals
The EU has claimed to be climate neutral by the end of this decade, with deep and drastic emissions cuts at the core of the EU-wide efforts. It is a difficult endeavor to bring all emissions in the member states down to zero; however, carbon removal could be a priority using modern technology and/or natural carbon sinks, as well as a valid certification framework for carbon removals.
The general intention is to take on board entrepreneurship and corporate entities. Hence the Commission wants in the process of carbon removals to offer new and additional sources of income, for example for millions of European farmers who are eager to do more for biodiversity, but struggle to find necessary funding.
The Commission intends to issue carbon removal certification; then, financial support will flow to those farmers, foresters and land managers who choose practices with considerable additional benefits to biodiversity.
Besides, the European industrial sectors will still need sources of carbon that are not based on fossil fuels, for example to make plastics, rubbers or certain chemicals. Thus, the Commission proposes to ensure that carbon used in such products can be effectively certified. Generally, it is about “quantification”, i.e. the additional measures leading to the long-term storage and finally improving sustainability.
Source: Comments by Executive Vice-President Timmermans in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_22_7323

 

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