Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment: plastics energy recovery must go down
During a conference on the future of the plastics sector, the environment commissioner Janez Potočnik said that landfill rates must go down as quickly as possible, but it is also important to switch from energy recovery to increased recycling.
In view of the expected population growth, and the increased demand for resources, the commissioner stressed the need for a ‘real and absolute decoupling’ of economic growth and resource use and pollution, referring to the Roadmap to a Resource-efficient Europe. With an expected yearly increase of plastic production by 5% in Europe, Mr Potočnik highlighted the importance of the plastics industry in this process.
The commissioner continued: “unfortunately, even today, nearly 50 % of plastic in Europe goes to landfill. The other half goes to recovery, mostly energy recovery, and to a lesser extent into recycling”.
Pointing out the need to eliminate landfilling, the commissioner then moved to the issue of recycling: “Plastic recycling rates are far too low across Europe with an average of just 24 %. Today, even in countries with high recovery rates there is simply not enough plastic available for recycling because most of it goes into energy recovery”. Mr Potočnik deplored that even though recycling technology has moved forward quickly, too often plastic is down-cycled, not recycled. He indicated that plastic recycling could create around 160 000 additional jobs in the EU 27 assuming a recycling rate of 70 % by 2020.
The problem of plastic bags and marine litter was also raised by the commissioner. Since 80% of marine plastic litter is land-based in origin, prevention of this litter, including plastic bags, should be a top priority. According to an impact assessment from the commission currently being finalized, the best option to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags is likely to be the introduction of pricing measures combined with targets.
The use of bioplastics, including biodegradable and compostable plastic, seems like a quick fix solution, but according to Mr Potočnik there are a number of significant problems linked to bioplastics. First they can contaminate the recycling of conventional plastic. Second, biodegradable plastic requires specific technical composting conditions to decompose, thus they do not provide a solution to either land or marine littering. Last, competition with food production is an issue as well. “Therefore, it seems fairly unrealistic to assume that petro-olefin based plastics could or should be replaced in the mid and long term by bioplastics”, said the commissioner.
Read more about the Waste Framework Directive, the waste hierarchy, and the role of recycling:
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