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.