Economy and law, key points for a sustainable production of plastics

Economy and law, key points for a sustainable production of plastics

Experts gathered today at the workshop Sustainable plastics & EU-policies. Challenges & opportunities for industry and academia, organised by the EFB’s Biobased Materials Division with the collaboration of SEBiot, have stressed that in order to make progress in the sustainable production of plastics it is essential, on the one hand, to make the entire production process economically viable and, on the other hand, to have an appropriate legislative framework that favours and prioritises the production of circular plastics.

Of the 400.3 million tonnes of plastic produced in 2022, only 38 Mt were circular plastics, i.e. plastics recycled mechanically after use (8.9% of the total), chemically recycled (0.1%), bioplastics (2.3%) or plastics produced from CO2 capture (less than 0.1%). These figures, set out in the speech by Irene Mora, representative of the Plastics Europe association, highlight the long road that remains to be travelled to achieve sustainable plastics production, which drastically reduces their environmental impact.

Europe has been losing weight in global plastics production (from 28% in 2002 to 14% in 2022) to China (which today produces 32% of all plastics worldwide) and other Asian countries, but has been gaining weight in the production of recycled plastics (21% worldwide) and bioplastics (27%), although circular plastics still only account for 19.7% of all European production.

According to John McGeehan, a consultant and expert in plastics recycling and residue, much more collaboration is needed between teams working in basic research, environmental research, business and non-governmental organisations. “Much more research is needed to simplify processes and solve the challenges of industrial scale-up, as well as economic and environmental analysis, because these factors are key to industry transforming and changing its current methods,” he said. However, other experts believe that even if the technological challenges are solved, change will not happen without the right legislative framework.

The first session of the workshop, moderated by María Auxiliadora Prieto (CIB-CSIC), vice-president of SEBiot, was also attended by Mikael Muegge, from the company Susfert, who presented the problem of the presence of microplastics in most fertilisers currently in use – added by the industry to slow down nutrient dispensation – which is a major problem of contamination of agricultural soils.

The second session of the workshop, moderated by Lucia Gardossi from the University of Trieste (Italy), discussed the European legislative framework on sustainable plastics and, in particular, the provisions of the EU Green Deal and the PPWR (Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation), with the participation of Chloe Johnson (Circular Bio-based Europe, Belgium), Lara Dammer (Nova Institut, Germany), Hasso von Pogrell (European Bioplastics, Germany) and J. Erica Nuñez (The Ocean Foundation, USA).

The event, which was held online, was attended by more than 90 participants.

Information on world plastics production