Data collection and information exchange are becoming more and more critical in an increasingly international industry. We talked to EPRO manager Mike Jefferson about EPRO's role in the business and its future focus. A new interview in our series. #RIGKinquired
Could you please explain the history and the purpose of EPRO? How exactly did EPRO come into being? What exactly does it do? And what does it stand for?
EPRO stands for the “European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations” and was founded 25 years ago. So, at a time when plastics recycling was in its infancy and everyone was working out the best way to collect, sort and recycle these materials. And therefore, EPRO’s purpose is to share knowledge and best practice to support development at an international level. And this really continues to be its primary purpose today as the sector is continuing, developing and having higher recycling targets. There is a continuous need for efficiency and for sharing practice examples across and outside Europe and under the members. The members of EPRO are a mixture. They can be EPR (Expanded Producers` Responsibility) organisations either in packaging or agricultural. They might be mandatory EPR organisations or voluntary EPR organisations. They can also be plastics materials organisations, which are responsible for the collection of plastic within each country. There also are technical plastics recycling organisations, who give technical support advice to the EPR schemes in those countries.
Looking at the website, there are also organisations from Canada, New Zealand and South Africa mentioned as members of EPRO. Is there a particular reason for this?
Initially, EPRO - as the name suggests - was set up as a European organisation and just had European members. But over time, EPRO has become known outside of Europe and organisations with a similar purpose were looking to take part and share best practise and knowledge. So really, it started to expand into other parts of the world, particularly where EPR is becoming more important. For example, we have several members in Canada, as you have seen from the website. But we have members in South Africa and New Zealand as well.
Keeping in mind that you as an association are the umbrella of several national organisations, is EPRO also a member of a specific organisation that specialises in the EPR topics or recycling as such?
EPRO is not part of another EPR association, but we work very closely with other European associations, including for EPR, and share some members with them. For example, we work very closely with EXPRA and PROsPA. Therefore, we sometimes have joint webinars, for example, on topics of mutual interest. We are active on other platforms as well, particularly within Europe. For instance, we are a member of PCEP, the polyolefin circular economy platform looking specifically at polyolefin plastics and their circularity. Other EPRO members and I are active in many different working groups. EPRO is also involved in other European and international platforms, such as the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA).
Given the fact that you are located in Brussels. Could you quantify the amount of time you take into lobby work with politics and the European Union, or is your work more focused on the association side of recycling?
I wouldn’t describe EPRO as being involved in advocacy or lobbying in the sense that some other trade associations use these terms. EPRO is better described as a network of technical experts sharing experiences and best practise in the practical and operational aspects of the collection, sorting and recycling of plastics. However, of course, we all know that policy and legislation has driven plastic recycling in Europe for the past 30 years. And it also drives plastic recycling in other parts of the world. Currently, there is a considerable interest in plastics at a political level and a lot of new legislation is coming through as well as continued implementation of existing Directives at a Member State level. Let me give you an example. The Waste Framework Directive revision from 2018, which includes minimum requirements for EPR schemes, is still implemented in some parts of Europe. There are also further revisions to the waste framework directive and the packaging and packaging waste directive in progress. These will be of great importance to EPRO members, particularly within Europe – and cover topics such as recycled content, packaging reduction, reuse and the measurement points for recycling. Due to the importance of these topics, EPRO is involved in giving input to their development, particularly from a technical perspective. Part of my job is to understand what’s happening at the policy level and around the revision of legislation and make that knowledge available to EPRO, so everyone knows what is happening. I think it’s important to input our technical expertise into these legislation revisions and the policy decision-making processes. I consider it important is to take the expertise existing within EPRO and pass on that knowledge back into the policy-making process, ensuring that input is coming from the industry and that politics and legislation are up to date.
Regarding numbers, do you, as EPRO, publish a specific report with statistics from your member associations?
Not directly as EPRO, however EPRO members have given input to the Plastics Europe report on plastics and plastics recycling for many years. That report covers all countries within Europe + 3 (UK, Norway, Switzerland), and EPRO is active in feeding into its data from the countries we have members in. The Plastics Europe Report is the leading publication with data from our member associations. We provide data for other associations, such as the Circular Plastics Alliance, sometimes working with other associations such as EXPRA. EPRO is very active in supplying information to the CPA, both from the packaging and agricultural plastics sides. Overall, we are very busy with statistics and data gathering for reports of befriended associations.
Could you explain a little bit about your daily tasks as Manager of EPRO?
As mentioned, from my point of view, the primary function of EPRO is to share knowledge and best practise as well as learnings so that everyone within their own country has access to data and information and can apply it in a way that best suits their national circumstances. Part of my role is facilitating and coordinating the different working groups and meetings we have within EPRO. We offer various occasions where members can meet and exchange information and learnings. We organise two general meetings a year. We also have different working groups looking at specific topics. For example, we have a technical working group that looks at cutting issues like packaging and agricultural plastics. We also have a trading and export group of particular relevance to organisations looking at commercial and industrial packaging. While EPRO would ideally like to see that the resources are kept in Europe, the reality is that some material still does flow outside of Europe. This group looks at how best to ensure traceability and environmentally sound management. For example, through auditing.
Additionally, we have an agricultural plastics working group which RIGK chairs. We organise webinars with panel discussions on particular issues and hold workshops on important current topics. To come back to your question, I think coordination and facilitating of these meetings and forums, to make sure that they run well, that the topics are presented in the right way, that the suitable topics are picked and given the right level of attention, is an important part of my day to day tasks. Additionally, the more general dissemination of information to ensure members are kept up to date is an part of my role. Different meetings occur here in Brussels, for example, with other associations or platforms, such as the Circular Plastics Alliance. EPRO is also a founding member of EuCertPlast, the certification scheme for plastics recyclers. We are active in EPBP, the European PET bottle platform, which is focused on design for recycling. It is difficult for individual members to take part personally in all of these meetings and so feeding in on their behalf and reporting back is an important part of EPRO’s work. As part of the work to keep members up to speed on the latest developments, we have the "EPRO-Update", which started this year. We disseminate this update every two weeks and try to give members in a brief and condensed form the information we are receiving which we believe will be of interest to them. This is not just information from my activities but also information from the other members, so this is an information exchange in both ways. Also new is a web-based system which we are using to build a knowledge library and look at specific topics. Well, I think all of these topics describe my key role at EPRO, above all the collaboration with other associations and industry platforms on behalf of EPRO.
All the points you just mentioned, to share and exchange information and learnings with all the members. Are these the tasks you enjoy the most at your work and your role at EPRO?
Absolutely. The engagement with members daily, understanding what's happening in the different countries and sharing that knowledge amongst members. This is a very enjoyable part of my role. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the topic "plastics" is at the heart of the European and international waste and recycling policy. It is apparent in Europe now. We see it in the Americas, from Canada to the south in Chile. We also see it in Asia, so "plastics" is at the heart of the waste and recycling discussion. Being involved in such an important, dynamic and interesting topic is a very enjoyable part of my role from a personal perspective. Especially in terms of continuous learning and sharing that knowledge.
Could you please tell us a little bit about your professional background?
I have been in the waste- and recycling sector since I left university, so for 30 years in total. Initially I spent 17 years in the industry in operational and commercial roles, and also involved in producer responsibility within the UK. I then started work as a consultant 13 years ago when I moved to Brussels. And that consultancy work is built on the work I did in industry, for example, on a lot of operational, technical and commercial type consulting and increasingly also on policy and legislation as well. I'm also involved in consultancy for other European associations. For example, I mentioned EXPRA. I am also involved in CEFLEX, which is focused on household flexible packaging circularity. And I think bringing all that work together also helps in sharing and obtaining knowledge and building networks between the different associations so that people can benefit as much as possible from that and their membership in their associations.
Mike Jefferson, Manager EPRO
Jan Bauer, GeschäftsführerEPRO
Then simply call us, or send us an email! Your contact is happy to assist you personally with additional information, and will advise you on all recovery and recycling topics.