23 May 2019

CIRC-PACK joins European plastic waste innovators in Brussels

On 16 May 2019, more than 100 policy makers, innovators and circular economy experts gathered at Scotland House in Brussels for the PlastiCircle and ICLEI Europe conference ‘Circular Cities – Innovating to tackle plastic waste’.

Held during EU Green Week, the conference was a hub of activity for industry, NGOs, academia and Horizon 2020 projects – all looking to debate from policy, city and industry perspectives on the challenge of plastic waste and the need for innovation in a circular economy.

The CIRC-PACK consortium had a central role in proceedings, fresh from a General Assembly meeting in Brussels the day before. At the Circular Cities conference, more than 20 CIRC-PACK collaborators were present, with the project hosting the successful workshop ‘New materials and ecodesign for plastics in a circular economy’.

Interest in the CIRC-PACK project was also at an all-time high during the meeting, with a Euronews film crew interviewing key consortium partners on the role of consumers, ecodesign, and industry uptake of CIRC-PACK project innovations. Footage of CIRC-PACK will be released in the coming weeks as part of the Euronews Futuris segment.

“Linear is out, circular is in!”

The conference itself was opened by Werner Bosmans of the European Commission’s DG Environment, with a keynote presentation on a European strategy for plastics in the circular economy. Joined on the panel by Daiva Kvedaraitė (European Economic and Social Committee) and André van de Nadort (European Committee of the Regions), Mr Bosmans’ intervention was a timely reminder of the urgent challenges facing cities across Europe, and the critical importance of new legislation introduced by the bloc.

The European strategy for plastics in a circular economy revolves around four key axes: curbing plastic waste and littering; improving the economics and quality of plastics recycling; driving investments and innovation towards circular solutions; and harnessing global action. And conference-goers were especially eager to press Mr Bosmans on the specifics of what the European Commission foresees from 2019 onwards.

How can cities solve the plastic challenge?

With the conference co-organised by the European Secretariat of global city network ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the city dimension was a crucial component of the event – which also attracted representatives from regions and municipalities around Europe.

The second panel of the day, moderated by Zero Waste Scotland’s Iain Gulland, brought about robust discussions on the best strategies for city leaders to engage with citizens and address growing concerns over municipal waste management (including plastic packaging). Cristina Monge (AVEP), Jonas Mortensen (the city of Copenhagen), Eric Velthuizen (the city of Utrecht) and Ana Moya of PlastiCircle all offered key insights from their cities.

The PlastiCircle perspective was crucial, given project experiences in not one but three European cities: Valencia (Spain), Utrecht (the Netherlands) and Alba Iulia (Romania).

Can plastics innovations make cities more circular?

The final panel of the day gathered both industry representatives and Horizon 2020 project co-ordinators, including CIRC-PACK project manager Montserrat Lanero. Ms Lanero and César Aliaga (PlastiCircle) were joined by the CEO of Veolia Netherlands, Hildagarde McCarville, and fellow industry innovator Howard Waghorn of HAHN Plastics Ltd. – they offered key insights into how innovations in urban waste management can "close the loop" and make the circular economy visible to everyday citizens of Europe’s urban areas.

But the conference also offered some welcome additional spaces for collaboration and discussion, not least the lunchtime ‘Innovation Space’, featuring industry clusters such as Plastipolis, companies such as Veolia, and Horizon 2020 projects BioVoices, FORCE, UrbanWINS and of course CIRC-PACK.

In–depth discussions – New plastics, digitalisation, measuring the circular economy and more

The parallel workshops were also a key highlight of the day, with CIRC-PACK hosting a well-attended, multi-stakeholder workshop on new plastic materials and ecodesign. Taking centre stage were Keti Medarova-Bergstrom of the European Commission (EASME), Greet Overbeek of the BioVoices project, Daniel Massó of Spanish standardisation body UNE, and as chair, Belén Ramos of Spanish consumer organisation OCU. In-depth discussions and focus groups followed the series of stimulating presentations.

There was also a highly interactive set of focus groups during the workshop ‘Digitalisation for a circular economy’. These discussions were led by Ander Pijoan of the Waste4Think project, Annika Hedberg of the European Policy Centre, Henning Wilts of the Wuppertal Institute and Alberto Bellini of the University of Bologna and co-ordinator of the eCircular project.

ICLEI Europe hosted a workshop on local approaches to measuring the circular economy, with a host of senior speakers including Aristide Athanassiadis of the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

“Cities are consumers – and can lead by example”

The 100 or so participants at ‘Circular cities – Innovating to tackle plastic waste’ heard discussions on plastic waste from a wide range of perspectives; city-focused perspectives, industry-focused perspectives and from an innovation-centric perspective. But throughout the urban plastic waste discussions, a number of key themes arose again and again.

Closing the conference, ICLEI Europe deputy regional director Ruud Schuthof noted that raising of awareness is key – and indeed with the issue of plastic waste there is an opportunity for communicators and all stakeholders because “plastic waste is very tangible”. But the public in all of Europe’s municipalities need be better informed on plastic solutions, with “clear descriptions on what we mean in terms of waste, re-use and recycling”. In reality, noted Mr Schuthof, “cities are consumers, and can lead by example!”

The 16 May conference also released the official PlastiCircle promo video, which runs through the essence of PlastiCircle innovations in plastic waste collection, transport, sorting and recycling. The video is on YouTube.