Towards a Circular Economy: Extended Producer Responsibility makes a difference, by Joachim Quoden, Managing Director, EXPRA

The latest EMF report “A New Plastics Economy: Catalysing action”, which was launched at the World Economic Forum in January, focused, once again, on the global impact of human activities on nature. The report raised a number of questions and suggested concrete actions for a genuine system shift guided by Circular Economy principles.

The European Union has been discussing the transition towards a Circular Economy for some years now. The debate pivots around waste legislative proposals defining efficient waste management practices, with a 2030 horizon, and other sustainable patterns of consumption and production required to close the loop.

Plastics are at the core of this transformation. This is why the European Commission is set to publish, by the end of this year, a specific EU strategy on plastics. It will focus on decoupling plastics production from virgin fossil feedstock; improving the economics, quality and uptake of plastic recycling and reuse; and reducing plastic leakage into the environment.

As mentioned by the EMF report, we also promote a collaborative approach between the public and the private sector, across the whole value chain. The fact that so many leading businesses have committed to working within the New Plastic Economy towards a genuine system shift becomes central to the initiative’s success.

This is, precisely, what the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is about – its basic feature is that actors across the packaging value chain – and, in particular, manufacturers, importers and retailers – assume a significant degree of responsibility for the environmental impact of their products throughout their life ­cycle. This includes products’ ‘upstream’ impact linked to the selection of materials, product design and production processes as such, as well as ‘downstream’ impact relating to the products’ use and disposal. EPR moreover provides incentives for eco-design while contributing to sustainable production and consumption policies.

The ambitions target for plastic packaging recycling (50 per cent), suggested within the EMF report, is equivalent to the one being currently discussed by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union, albeit with a different timing. We do, actually, believe that harmonisation on the EU level is needed. However, for these efforts to be workable, some policy solutions are yet to be found. Amongst these lies the issue of how best to calculate waste which is actually recycled.

Following our own assessment of the effect of recycling measurement on the circular economy, we believe that recycled waste should be measured at the gate of the recycling plant. In fact, reliable data can only be ascertained upon entrance to the recycling plant.

At the same time, we are fully aligned behind the need for ensuring that waste materials that are accounted for as recycled have adequate quality attributes. This is why we are also proposing that, in parallel, specific quality standards for waste materials be introduced at EU level, building on current national best practice.