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Statement on the EU proposals for recycling, bioplastics and waste

The following statement – together with those of other experts – was first published on the website of the Science Media Center (SMC).

SMC: “On November 30, 2022, the EU Commission proposed two central projects for the circular economy of plastics [I]. A revision of the Packaging Directive should ensure that 15% less packaging waste is produced in EU countries by 2040 than in 2018 – without new regulations, the amount of waste would likely increase significantly.

The second project is a political framework for bio-based and biodegradable plastics. This does not contain any binding rules, but is intended as a guideline for future EU regulations. In it, the Commission defines the circumstances under which “bioplastics” make ecological sense and how products made from bio-based plastics should be labeled.

Both projects are part of the Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan [II]. The Science Media Center asked researchers for their assessment. A fact sheet on plastics recycling in Germany and the EU and on measures that could boost recycling can be found here [III].”

Statement Prof. Dr. Michael Nase

Head of the Institute for Applied Biopolymer Research, Hof University of Applied Sciences

“The European Commission’s proposed regulations on the circular economy of plastics represent a bold and comprehensive approach to revolutionize the packaging industry. They include the most critical and important levers to significantly improve the sustainability of the packaging sector.”

“The regulations cover almost all packaging that a citizen uses within the EU, particularly with the requirement for recyclability of packaging through the concept of ‘design for recycling’. From a recycling perspective, problematic developments of recent decades – towards complex, multifunctional packaging solutions from inseparable composite systems – are being addressed and almost completely recyclable packaging solutions are being demanded. This demand on our packaging must be supported and represents an enormous potential for reducing plastic waste. Nevertheless, the planned project is contrary to current industrial practice in many areas of the packaging industry and will present all players with the enormous challenge of finding innovations. Whether it will be possible to find adequate alternative solutions with high recyclability for all current packaging applications will become clear when the new regulations are implemented. If not, we will have to give up a certain luxury – through high-tech, cheap and readily available packaging and its advantages such as barriers, resealability and practicability with simultaneous toxicity for our environment. Other proposed solutions such as refill and reuse options are interesting concepts, but they are already reaching their limits in terms of practicability in current practice – apart from some applications. It can therefore be assumed that these will play a smaller role in reducing packaging waste.”

“It is very welcome that clear and uniform communication with the consumer of packaging is part of the regulations – through harmonized symbols and clear guidelines for the disposal of packaging. In practice, previous systems showed clear weaknesses in the quality of collected packaging waste. This also caused consumers to lose confidence in a functioning recycling system.”

“The regulation of the development and use of bioplastics in the area of packaging solutions is overdue and therefore very welcome. Through regulation, undesirable developments – such as non-recyclable packaging in the area of petrochemical-based plastics – can be curbed at an early stage. However, the extensive restrictions – such as the severe limitations on the applications for biodegradable plastics – make it difficult to develop new products in the still young bioplastics industry. At this point, it would be desirable to leave the door a little wider open for development and innovation.”

“The proposed regulations do a lot of things right and provide further impetus and standards that were overdue in the industry. Overall, implementation in national laws and regulations would be a gain in terms of sustainability. For the packaging industry and for us as end consumers, however, it will above all also mean Roll up your sleeves, work together and get to work.”

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