23 October 2018

“What we want is to make plastics circular,” environment chief tells World Circular Economy Forum

Some 95 per cent of the value of plastics is lost to the economy each year because Europe is not reusing or recycling enough, an international audience heard today in Japan.

Today at the World Circular Economy Forum in Japan, a global audience of experts, business leaders and policy makers heard that in the European Union (EU), 105 billion euros of value is lost each year due to a lack of plastics reuse and recycling – some 95 per cent of the value of plastics in the EU.

Daniel Calleja, director general of the European Commission’s DG Environment, told a packed session in Yokohama that plastic reuse and recycling rates in the bloc remain stubbornly low compared with other materials, but that the EU institutions continue to tackle the issue head on.

“The plastics sector in the EU is a very strategic sector,” Mr Calleja told the forum’s session on Circular Economy for Plastics.

“The sector employs 1.5 million people and has a turnover of 340 billion euros, but plastic is also at the origin of serious environmental issues,” he said, adding that in the EU and beyond, decision makers are exploring ways to make the plastic sector circular, save resources and “reduce plastic leakage into the environment”.

According to the European Commission, 25.8 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated annually in the EU, with less than 30 per cent collected adequately.

For its part, the European Commission has recently introduced a raft of proposals and concrete legislation in recent months to address the plastics challenge within and outwith the bloc.

In January 2018, the EU adopted a Plastics Strategy to ensure that by 2030, all plastic packaging put into the market is reusable or recyclable. Plastic packaging comprises the largest type of plastic waste in the EU.

Mr Calleja also told the forum that single-use plastics would be restricted where there are no alternatives, and that a “restriction dossier” was being prepared for micro-plastics that are intentionally added in products. “We are taking regulatory action at the European level,” said Mr Calleja, “but also at the level of the G7, G20 and within the United Nations to combat plastic pollution. Only international efforts will be able to deliver.”

The environmental policy chief added that innovation would be a key tool in delivering circularity for the European plastics sector – with heavy investment to follow.

“In the coming years we are spending more than 350 million euros in order to promote innovative solutions linked to plastics. We’ll be looking at design and circularity. We do not want to demonise plastics; what we want is to make plastics circular, to make sure we can recycle and reuse them.”

Mr Calleja’s comments echoed those of other international participants in today’s session, all keen to emphasise the link of smart product designs to improving circularity in the sector.

“In Germany we have good collection and sorting systems but this is not enough,” said German environment ministry speaker Regina Dube. “We should also improve packaging design to get to a circular economy.”

In the Europe, the EU’s innovation drive is notably being supported by the bloc’s research and innovation agenda, and the Horizon 2020 programme.

Multi-million euro initiatives including the CIRC-PACK and PlastiCircle projects are being driven forward to improve the circularity of plastic packaging, promote innovations in collection and sorting and boost the production of added value products from recycled plastic packaging waste.

With global plastics production set to double in the next 20 years, the need for regulation, partnerships with the private sector, and strategic investment in circular economy solutions is becoming ever more urgent.

Today's session at the World Circular Economy Forum was co-organised by the Japanese Ministry for the Environment, the Finnish innovation fund Sitra, and the European Commission.

4 October 2018

CIRC-PACK to Meet for Circular Packaging Workshop in the Netherlands

The pan-European CIRC-PACK consortium will convene in Arnhem, the Netherlands later this month, for an international workshop on circular packaging hosted by CIRC-PACK partner Bumaga.

On 30-31 October 2018, the latest event in the CIRC-PACK calendar will take place in Arnhem in the Netherlands, with both a CIRC-PACK steering committee meeting and a Workshop on Circular Packaging on the agenda.

In follow-up to the CIRC-PACK consortium’s general assembly and visit to the Novamont research facilities in Novara (Italy) in May, the latest gathering of the project team will be hosted by Dutch partner Bumaga and a Dutch PET recycling company.

The 31 October workshop will gather industrial stakeholders from the Netherlands and beyond, and includes an interactive session and Dutch case study on circular packaging.

The CIRC-PACK team will join industry representatives to study the following questions: How to produce packaging materials that are future proof? How to ‘ecodesign’ multi-material and multilayer packaging? How can the plastic packaging value chain become more circular?  And how will consumers and public authorities benefit from CIRC-PACK results? These questions will feed into current and future CIRC-PACK efforts as we aim to turn waste to resource, and close the loop on plastic packaging.

For live updates from the workshop and further news, visit and follow the project on Twitter via @circ_economy.

4 October 2018

CIRC-PACK Progress Report – what’s the latest?

At the half-way stage in the CIRC-PACK project, we’ve (base line) analysed the current state of our different value chains – in terms of environmental impact, economic costs, social impacts and circularity. Here are the key points so far.

When it comes to packaged products such as powder detergent, liquid soap, chicken and coffee, the main contribution to the environmental impact of these products is the product itself, i.e. the actual environmental impact of chicken and coffee packaging remains very low. However, packaging for powdered detergent accounts for some 40% of environmental impact.

In terms of value chain circularity, CIRC-PACK notes that at present, most of these products have a very high degree of linearity due to an almost inexistent level of recycled material used as raw materials for the packaging. Recycled cardboard for packaging is a notable exception. As for laminated cardboard packs, these are not recycled due to the oft-noted difficulty of separating plastic layer from cardboard.

The problem with plastic bags

According to European Commission analyses, the recovery rates for another CIRC-PACK target product, plastic bags, remains stubbornly low. Moreover, when these are landfilled, such non-collected materials contribute significantly to ecotoxicity indicators.

In terms of environmental impact, the main factors here are both the raw materials themselves and the electricity used during the manufacturing process. CIRC-PACK notes that recycled materials can reduce the impact in two notable ways: 1. when plastic waste is used to manufacture the recycled materials, both waste treatment and landfill impacts are reduced, and 2. the manufacturing of bags will of course use less virgin polymers.

Our analyses of the circularity of bags reveal both positives and negatives. On the one hand, the use of recycled materials in their composition is in the order of 50%. However, end user collection rates remain very low. Thicker bags may be reused several times and therefore extend the product’s utility by carrying heavier loads than thinner bags – thus increasing the circularity of the material by two.

Addressing automotives

In our analyses of a third CIRC-PACK target product, automotive components, the consortium confirms that the environmental impact of recycling is indeed lower than incineration or landfill in most of the indicators used. However, indicators for ozone depletion, ionising radiation and eutrophication show a higher environmental impact for recycling because of the electricity used for the recycling process. Notwithstanding, in applying a monetarisation procedure to obtain overall environmental cost, recycling scenarios come out on top from an environmental perspective. Where automotive components are concerned, recycling such materials will require new skilled positions in the future – so aside from requiring the development of tailored training programmes, this may well add extra value to the CIRC-PACK project and to the European economy if and when replicated. With automotive components, the challenge for CIRC-PACK is rather to innovative towards increased circularity for these products.

2 October 2018

Europe’s Towns and Cities in Line for CIRC-PACK Benefits

Europe’s towns and cities stand to make real gains from new knowledge and innovations in plastic packaging, according to CIRCE’s Montserrat Lanero in a new interview.

Montserrat Lanero, project manager for the CIRC-PACK project and at Zaragoza-based research centre CIRCE, has told that local authorities across Europe could benefit long-term from knowledge transfer and key recommendations that CIRC-PACK will produce for municipalities.

As part of the European Union’s circular economy objectives, the CIRC-PACK project is applying new innovations to plastic packaging design (to improve sorting and recycling), and for the production of new bio-based, biodegradable plastics from renewable resources – as opposed to finite fossil fuels. It is hoped the innovations will ‘close the loop’ on plastics in the environment, and go some way to alleviating Europe’s plastic problem.

Ms Lanero said that across Europe, local authorities with low rates of recovery of plastic waste – and especially plastic packaging – had become an issue, but projects like CIRC-PACK “could help through knowledge transfer”, boost recovery and recycling rates, and raise awareness of circular economy principles.

“In terms of the environmental impact of plastic packaging, CIRC-PACK can really increase awareness among consumers in Europe’s towns and cities, but also among local authorities and public administrations,” said Ms Lanero.

“These actors could certainly benefit from project recommendations and enhance their current policies on plastic packaging.”

Each year in the European Union, more than 25 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced by EU member countries – the majority of which is plastic packaging. Less than a third of plastic waste is recycled.

Asked what consumers could expect from projects such as CIRC-PACK, Ms Lanero said that the advent of biodegradable plastic materials, made from bio-based renewable resources, would prove crucial.

“With CIRC-PACK, we have been collaborating with consumers since the very beginning of the project to take into account their expectations of future products and what they want to see from us and other actors in the ‘lower impact’ packaging market.”

“In the end, we will have more useful materials and better quality materials. This is key for consumers and the environment.”

Among multiple European initiatives to close the loop on plastics, CIRC-PACK is a three-year initiative funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The project aims to transform the plastic packaging value chain from a linear to a circular value chain, and transform waste to resource by producing new added-value products for a range of sectors (such as the automotive and hygienic product sectors).

The full interview with Ms Lanero is online.

1 October 2018

‘First Trials and Testing for CIRC-PACK’ – Q&A with CIRCE’s Montserrat Lanero

With the half-way mark fast approaching for the CIRC-PACK project, CIRCPACK.EU spoke to project manager Montserrat Lanero of CIRCE to update us on the latest news, and the big challenges bringing CIRC-PACK innovations into the mainstream as Europe confronts its circular economy agenda.

CIRCPACK.EU:  In a nutshell, can you remind us what CIRC-PACK set out to achieve?

ML:  At its heart, this project aims to transform the plastic packaging value chain from a ‘linear’ to a ‘circular’ value chain. That’s why we are applying a number of innovations along the value chain throughout the project -  addressing the decoupling of materials from fossil-based feedstocks, the reduction of environmental impact, and of course the creation of an effective after-use economy. We are also focusing on the design of the plastic products – mainly packaging products – in order to make them easier to sort and recycle. In this way, we can increase the recovery of plastic waste and reduce the quantity of plastics that go to landfill. This is of course very much in keeping with European Union circular economy objectives – and throughout the project we are keeping abreast of every EU recommendation in this area, in addition to asking our colleagues in the institutions for feedback regarding project developments.

CIRCPACK.EU: What do you mean by innovations? What’s new about this project?

ML: We want to replace polymers that are based on fossil resources with bio-based polymers. We will also try to create packaging that is biodegradable. CIRC-PACK will also generate products for applications that cover sectors other than food packaging – sectors such as automotives and hygienic products. Furthermore, the CIRC-PACK project also involves packaging composed of cardboard. And of course we’ll try to improve the very design of the packaging so that it will be better suited for collection. All of this involves extensive collaboration with all stakeholders in the value chain, and of course new business models that make it easier to evaluate the ways we use plastic waste.

CIRCPACK.EU: How is this a ‘win’ for Europe as a whole?

Through the use of bio-based products we can decouple the plastic sector from fossil resources. In this way we can contribute to a circular economy and a greener economy in general, as well as to overall decarbonisation. Also, with collaboration among actors in the plastic packaging value chain, we can increase resource productivity. And as we design and produce our value-added materials (and even more conventional items), we’ll be reducing the volume of plastic waste that goes to landfill, thus increasing recycling rates. You see, the innovations developed in this project could be applied in every sector that involves plastic, not just packaging. For example, electronic appliances and construction!

CIRCPACK.EU: We are nearly half way through the CIRC-PACK project. What is the latest?

ML: I can confirm that we have developed an evaluation methodology to assess the economic, social and environmental impact of each the innovations in the value chain. This has been conducted by CIRCE. Crucially, we are also performing our first trials in order to check that our materials are of the necessary quality to create new packaging products. This quality testing is vital to the project. And of course at the end of the trials we will have our first prototypes of a range of different bio-based products. But we are also involving European consumers in this process – this from the outset of the project. When CIRC-PACK started, we were clear that we had to know consumers’ expectations of our products, and also to assess their knowledge of the impact of these products – environmental or otherwise! So we will be comparing our baseline scenario of consumer expectations, with new reactions to the products being tested right now.

CIRCPACK.EU: At this crucial time, what are the big challenges you have faced?

ML: The main problem for the CIRC-PACK project is the lack of lack of homogeneity. By that I mean that the rules of the game are different in every country: plastic waste collection is different, and the separation of waste is different in every country we work in. So it is difficult to provide recommendations that are currently applicable in every country. In reality, countries are at different stages. For example, in two municipalities in the CIRC-PACK consortium, Rijeka in Croatia and Kartal in Turkey, as yet waste separation practices are not as advanced as in other municipalities. To address this long-term, we would like to provide achievable recommendations so that these municipalities can increase recovery rates. The same goes for awareness of the environmental impact of plastic packaging. This is something we are doing at a European level, for everyone. And finally there was always the risk that the trials didn’t yield the desired results or quality. But in short, we have actually achieved what we wanted and we can continue our progress on a sound footing.

CIRCPACK.EU: You mention local authorities such as Rijeka and Kartal. How do towns and cities stand to benefit from this project?

ML: In terms of the environmental impact of plastic packaging, we believe that CIRC-PACK can really increase awareness among consumers in Europe’s towns and cities, but also among local authorities and public administrations. These actors could certainly benefit from project recommendations and enhance their current policies on plastic packaging. And of course we may have local authorities with low plastic waste recovery rates. This is an issue. But we can help them through knowledge transfer to improve recovery rates.

CIRCPACK.EU: Finally, how will the European consumer benefit from CIRC-PACK innovations?

ML: We will increase their awareness of the environmental impact of plastic packaging so we can reduce the impact of these materials. But crucially, through our innovations, consumers will be avoiding the use of non-renewable materials. With CIRC-PACK, we have been collaborating with consumers from the beginning to take into account their expectations of future products, and what they want to see from us and other actors in the  ‘lower impact’ packaging market. In the end, we will have more useful materials, and better quality materials. This is key for consumers and the environment.

The CIRC-PACK project is a three-year initiative funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The CIRC-PACK consortium is composed of 22 partners from seven European countries; integrating non-profit organisations, municipalities, research organisations, large companies and SMEs. For more information, visit or follow the project on Twitter at @circ_economy.

25 July 2018

Spain Forges Ahead With Charges On Light Plastic Carrier Bags

As of 1 July 2018, businesses in Spain are now required by law to charge between 5 and 15 euro cents per light plastic carrier bag used by consumers, in a move designed to reduce the country’s generation of plastic waste and raise awareness of the considerable challenge which plastics pose to society.

The news this month that Spain has implemented a ban on the free distribution of light plastic carrier bags has been welcomed across Europe, as Spain forges ahead with a series of short-term and longer-term proposals to alleviate the burden of single-use plastics and plastic pollution in general.

Confirmed by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and Environment, from 1 July 2018, Spanish shops have been required to charge clients between 5 and 15 euro cents per light plastic bag (with the charge depending on the weight of the bag).

It should be noted that ultra-light plastic bags and thicker, recyclable bags are exempt from this charge, although according to Spanish consumer organisation and CIRC-PACK partner OCU, a total ban on light and ultra- light bags that are not compostable will come into force in January of 2021.

In a press communiqué, the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment said: “This is a first step towards freeing our environment of plastic waste and towards raising awareness among consumers of the need to reduce our use of plastic bags.”

The Ministry said that steps were being taken at a national level to raise levels of recycling and re-use, as well as to promote the generation of "quality recycled plastic”.

The new legislation is just the first step in Spain’s roadmap for plastics set out under the draft Spanish Circular Economy Strategy.

According to OCU, there are three broad categories of plastic bags in circulation:

Ultra-light bags (under 15 microns thick) are used for fresh or bulk produce such as fruit, meat or fish (and are exempt from charges under the current system); light plastic bags (up to 50 microns thick) which are now subject to charges in shops and businesses, and; the thicker plastic bags of more than 50 microns.

Come 2021, the ban on ultra-light and light plastic bags which aren’t compostable will place Spain among the leading economies in Europe for plastics legislation.

In Europe, of the 27 million tones of plastic waste produced each year, only around 9 million tones are recycled. Moreover, according to CIRC-PACK partner CIRCE, some 89% of plastic bags are only used once and in any case, typically take between 100 and 500 years to decompose – a burden on both society and the environment.

16 July 2018

European Sustainable Plastics Congress Gets The Latest On CIRC-PACK

The CIRC-PACK project was featured for an international audience this month, at the first European Sustainable Plastics Congress in Lyon, France. Organised by France’s Plastipolis on 5 July 2018, the congress heard firsthand how CIRC-PACK innovations are shaping up.

CIRC-PACK’s innovative waste to resource approach was featured for an international scientific and industry audience in Lyon, France, at a new plastics congress organised by Plastipolis.

Held in partnership with the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, the Lyon event was the first of its kind, and is set to focus on European sustainable plastics for the foreseeable future.

The CIRC-PACK project was presented by David Zambrana of CIRCE, as he focused on a new circular economy for the plastic packaging sector. Further presentations on CIRC-PACK were made by Alessandro d’Elicio of Italy’s Novamont and Ana Mafalda Gomes of Bumaga in the Netherlands. Here the congress heard firsthand the concepts behind CIRC-PACK’s first two ‘demo cases’: producing plastics from renewable resources, and eco-friendly packaging designs.

More news on CIRC-PACK is available on this website and via Twitter @circ_economy.

1 June 2018

The CIRC-PACK Consortium Hosted by Novamont in Novara, Italy

On 23-24 May 2018, the CIRC-PACK project consortium held a general partner meeting in Novara, Italy. The group gathered at the research lab of project partner Novamont to drive forward the CIRC-PACK project and continue the momentum built up during the first year of the initiative, as well as undertaking a research visit of the Novamont facilities.

For a Horizon 2020 project such as CIRC-PACK, partner meetings offer an excellent opportunity to consolidate work conducted by the partners and align future objectives among the project “work packages”. However, this visit to Novara also provided invaluable insights into Novamont’s research and development in the fields of bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics for a range of products for end users.

The site visit allowed all CIRC-PACK partners to see firsthand the cutting edge developments which can contribute to a circular economy for plastic packaging in the future!

16 April 2018

Waste To Resource: CIRC-PACK In Brussels For Circular Economy Conference

On 11 April 2018, the CIRC-PACK consortium met a host of circular economy stakeholders in Brussels, Belgium, to effectively launch the CIRC-PACK project in the heart of Europe. The conference and stakeholder event ‘Waste to resource: a new circular economy for the plastic packaging sector’ gathered more than 30 consortium members, business figures, civil society professionals and representatives of municipalities and the European institutions.

The CIRC-PACK consortium ostensibly launched its ambitious project to the public during a key event in the heart of Europe on 11 April. The conference and focus groups sessions, organised by project partner Plastipolis in collaboration with project co-ordinator CIRCE, were a vital opportunity to gather key stakeholders from around Europe and present the ambitious objectives of the CIRC-PACK project.

The CIRC-PACK Horizon 2020 project, working towards circular economy in the plastic packaging value chain, comprises a 22-member consortium of expert organisations from across Europe. With objectives such as decoupling plastics from fossil fuels, and producing smart, innovative “eco-design” packaging products, it is hoped that the project will achieve better collection and recycling of more complex packaging products – in itself a key component of circular economy in the plastics sector.

In Brussels, CIRC-PACK welcomed a wide range of stakeholders eager to hear about the project aims and deliverables – notably the three “demo cases” which CIRC-PACK has in store: first, producing plastics from renewable resources; second, producing eco-friendly packaging designs; third, enhancing the quality of sorting and recycling to effectively “close the loop” for plastics.

But the 11 April event also included targeted focus groups for expert stakeholders to feed back into CIRC-PACK’s planning and objectives. Held in parallel, CIRC-PACK moderators OCU, RINA Consulting and ICLEI Europe gathered key questions and discussions concerning consumers, business and public authorities respectively.