Definition of ‘recyclability’ takes center stage in EU packaging bill –

Defining what is considered “recyclable” has become a point of contention in the EU’s overhaul of its packaging waste legislation, with recyclers pushing for lofty targets and producers fearing that products will reach the threshold.

In November, the European Commission plans to table its revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive to align the previous law with EU environmental goals, including the goal of making all packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030.

Some aspects of the review, such as the idea of ​​greater EU-wide harmonization by turning the directive into a regulation, enjoy broad support.

But the definition of what is “recyclable” is proving controversial.

According to sources familiar with the drafting process, the European Commission wants to enshrine in law that 95% of the weight of packaging must be recyclable for it to be considered recyclable.

However, this goal is “extremely controversial”, according to Clarissa Morawski, CEO and co-founder of Reloop Platform, a think tank.

“It really challenges things like multi-material types of packaging – like Tetrapak, Polypouches or EXKI packaging – where you have a paper bowl, but you have a plastic lid,” she explained. .

95% “would definitely be very high,” said Annick Carpentier of the Alliance for Drinks Cartons and the Environment (ACE), which represents paper companies like Stora Enso and drinks carton makers like Tetrapak.

Although it depends on how the Commission calculates whether the threshold is met, it warned that a strict measure could potentially mean that “90% of packaging on the market would not meet the target”.

At an EU meeting earlier this year, all industry players said the threshold would be “outrageous and would de facto ban packaging formats”, she warned.

Meanwhile, recycling industry body EuRIC backs a strong definition to ensure real recyclability in packaging placed on the market.

“We cannot afford to have very short-lived products that are not recyclable when they reach the end of their life,” explained Emmanuel Katrakis, Secretary General of EurIC. Products should still be functional, but producers should also review the design to ensure they are easily recyclable at end of life, he added.

A global definition of recyclability already exists for plastic packaging, defined by the Association of Plastics Recyclers and Plastics Recyclers Europe in 2018. To meet this requirement, packaging must meet certain conditions, including being made of a type of plastic that has already been collected and recycled using commercial processes that transform it. into a raw material for use in new products.

Checkbox for recyclability

Along with the 95% threshold, the European Commission is considering recyclability criteria and a negative list of packaging types to eliminate processes that hinder recycling.

“They want to have a set of criteria, like recyclability means check, check, check, check,” Morawski told EURACTIV.

A negative list, however, should be updated regularly to keep up with technological changes, said EuRIC’s Maria Vera Duran.

Carpentier criticized a negative list, saying it wouldn’t allow for innovation or take into account the potential for a type of packaging to become recyclable.

Instead, she supports “design for recycling” guidelines, which would recognize composition and functionality, give technical details on what is compatible with the recycling process, and what needs to be tested to see if the product can be recycled.

“We think it’s technical enough to be sturdy and not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.

The EU executive’s rules could also mean that something is only recyclable if it can be recycled on a large scale, with a three-year deadline for new innovations to develop a recycling process.

“What they’re basically saying to innovators is ‘be careful with your innovations, recognize that if you want to sell in every country in Europe, you have to be able to pick it up through the municipal system and recycle it on a large scale “.”,” Morawski said.

Collection is key

But defining recyclability will not guarantee recycling, warned Carpentier, who told EURACTIV better collection was desperately needed.

“If the collection aspect is not addressed, imposing a very ambitious definition of recyclability makes no sense,” she explains.

While some high quality plastics have a mandatory collection goal under the Single Use Plastics Directive, this does not extend to other packaging materials.

Carpentier therefore called on the European Commission to introduce similar binding collection targets in the next European packaging law.

“As soon as a collection target is adopted, the industry knows that volumes will be predictable and secure and this will certainly trigger investment in sorting and recycling technologies,” she said.

Whatever the content of the final text, there needs to be a “much better” implementation and enforcement of existing separate collection obligations to eliminate disparities between EU countries and ensure that packaging reaches the recycler, Katrakis said.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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