The place for plastics in a zero-emission economy

Changes are needed in Ecodesign

Also, the European Parliament is engaged in the improvement of plastic waste management. In its February report concerning the European Commission’s new action plan towards a circular economy, it proposes a lot of ambitious measures, such as binding aims on the reduction of the use of primary resources, limitation on food waste, or expanding the consumers’ right to repair products.

Adam Jarubas from Polish People’s Party (EPP), MEP, and member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) reminds that among the specific recommendations from the EP are also changes in the Ecodesign Directive, as well as setting the goals of material waste reduction.

“There are also references to the particular types of waste, also package waste and other plastic waste. We do not know how many of these proposals will actually be introduced, but I think we are on a good way to changes in the Ecodesign Directive. In my view, two questions are of particular importance. Firstly, the maintainability of products. Their disposableness is a huge problem and it is necessary to regulate this issue. Secondly, the problem is an artificial shortening of the products’ lives. It will probably be much more difficult to reduce the use of primary resources”, the MEP said.

Yet, he stressed that the modernization of the economy may result in the rising need for some materials. One example is copper, which will be needed for the construction of electric car engines. “Fortunately, in the case of copper the level of recycled material is high”, he added.

“I suggested that the EP could start a pilot project granting money for the foundation of a market observatory for key secondary materials that were mentioned in the EC’s Circular Economy Action Plan. It is an important instrument that may allow gathering data necessary to balance the recycling and verification if they are not landfilled illegally, and the need for primary resources. The EC has decided last year that the project will be implemented in another way”, concluded Jarubas.

The industry needs clear guidelines

When talking about the directive on disposable plastic products Poland accepts all the intended results for the society, as well as the consequences of the implementation of a circular economy, such as plastic waste reduction, assured Deputy Director of the Department of Innovation and Industrial Policy in the Ministry of Economic Development, Labour and Technology Marlena Tryka.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, we accept those aims and promote them. It is in our common interest to maximally reduce the use of plastics and introduce greater circulation. All these goals are absolutely desired”, said the ministry’s representative.

Still, she pointed to some concerns by the Polish industry. “As we all know, the industry has been recently hit hard with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Investments in innovations have obviously decreased since then. The industry was focused on maintaining jobs and surviving this difficult period”, she said.

As she stressed, the entrepreneurs usually point to the problem of time set for adjusting to the new requirements. “Those changes in business models need a lot of time and money. Companies expect detailed guidelines from the European Commission. The cosmetic industry, but also other sectors have their concerns involved with the lack of certain information, which makes it impossible for them to fully comply with the guidelines to be introduced in near future,” Tryka underlined.

She provided an example of the production of wet wipes, in which semi-finished products, the appropriate fibers, may also come within implementing regulations. “The industry’s approach to those matters are responsible and sensitive for the current needs. Our cooperation with industries is perfect. When it comes to the implementation of circular economy, we have common goals”, she reassured.

Commission wants fewer packages

The EU has already regulated the questions of both disposable plastic products and packages. The directive was adopted in 1994, with further changes. For instance, in 2018 amendments were introduced on the limitation of the use of disposable plastic bags. Now, as the EU plan on circular economy is one of the key points of the European Green Deal, the packaging sector must prepare for a revolutionary change.

Until September open consultation will have a place on the restrictions concerning packages and other questions related to the reduction of this type of waste. Policy Officer for sustainable products and plastics at Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV) at the European Commission Paulo Da Silva Lemos mentioned two other crucial projects – Initiative for Sustainable Development and Initiative for Green Energy Sources.

“They also involve the question of plastics. And by the Initiative for Sustainable Products we want to reduce the consumption of resources through promoting durability and reuse of products. We plan to implement it in near future”, said the EP representative.

He added that Brussels is open for discussion on the directive on disposable plastic products with stakeholders and does not exclude the possibility of changes in its guidelines. “We are engaged in this debate from the very beginning. We want the Council and the European Parliament to show more engagement and create detailed use guidelines. We hope to see those guidelines in the nearest months. They should make the situation clearer for stakeholders that want to comply,” promised Lemos.

As he reminded, the directive on packages states that until 2030 at least 70% of the packages on the EU market (counted by weight) will have to be processed and various types of packages will have to include a determined percent of recycled material. EC officials added that actions are also needed on the reduction of the use of packages, which will contribute the most to the reduction of the use of resources.

There is a lot of discussion about plastics in the EU, but the stakeholders, including the producers, want to rise up to the challenge for the sector resulting from the implementation of more pro-environmental and pro-climate solutions.

Anna Wolska