You mentioned the cooperation with RIGK. Are you closely working together with them? And what is your general connection with RIGK?
Personally, I have known RIGK for many years now, I probably first met Jan Bauer a decade ago. RIGK is a crucial member and active member of EPRO. First, Jan Bauer sits on the board of EPRO and chairs the agricultural plastics working group. RIGK is very active in sharing their experience and knowledge with other members, and I would say RIGK has been very supportive to me personally in my role, as well. So, all in all, it is a very positive and successful cooperation.
Coming back to EPRO’s report activities, for instance the Circular Gap Report by Plastics Europe. Keeping in mind that EPRO was very important for collecting all the data in the report, could you tell us a little bit about how the data collection took place? Because in the report they are referring to all the members from the EU plus three, as you mentioned. How did you collect all the data to be put in the report?
Firstly, I would like to mention that the report covers all waste plastic types and packaging plastics and agricultural plastics. Still, it covers plastics, for example, from waste electronics and of end-of-life vehicles. So, it covers a broad mix. And, in certain countries, there might be more than one organisation responsible for handling plastics. For example, if I remember correctly, there are 10 dual systems in Germany. But EPRO has been involved in this effort since the beginning, so for a very long time. And it is playing a vital role because EPRO members are either directly or indirectly collecting a vast amount of plastics that get collected in Europe and now also in other countries. We have members in the large European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK, responsible for collecting a lot of packaging. If you look at the agricultural members of EPRO as well, you will find all of the larger plastics collection organisations represented, for example, from Germany with RIGK, obviously, or from France A.D.I.VALOR, for instance. Cleanfarms is one of the key players in North America in terms of collecting agricultural plastics. EPRO naturally collects a lot of data. It is also worth mentioning that I have a role within the Circular Plastics Alliance, which is an EPRO role for the collection and thematic coordination for collection, sorting and packaging. We also have active EPRO members within the agricultural working group, including RIGK, for example. And we are also involved in writing what is called the "state of play"-a report, which looks at the collection and sorting of all the different plastics-and waste types across Europe. So obviously, EPRO is responsible for the packaging report and feeds its knowledge also into the agricultural plastics report. So, in conclusion, one can say that statistics is a key part of what we are doing because it is a key performance indicator. Increasingly people want to see statistics and also want to see more granular statistics as policy interventions and targets become more specific. So, rather than just seeing how much plastic or how many packaging is collected, it's now increasingly important to be able to analyse data by polymer and format types. This is an issue not only for EPRO but can be seen across Europe - the granularity of data is something I think a lot of countries are looking for and working on at the moment. And I think that’s something that we will need to develop across Europe so that we help generate those key KPI’s to see how we’re progressing against all of these policy targets that we have.
The report's results draw a line between the past, the current developments and the future. From your point of view, or maybe for EPRO, what are the main learnings from the report? Regarding the Achievement of the tasks given by the legislation on one side and by the industry itself on the other.
First of all, I think that the report shows what EPR and the policy behind it have done within Europe, which is building a really strong growth in plastics recycling over the last two decades. It is tremendous progress from where we were twenty years ago to where we are now. But of course, looking forward, we have two main issues. We have higher targets; I mean, if we remember prior to 2018, the target for plastic packaging recycling was 22.5%. We now have a 50% target by 2025 and a 55% target by 2030.
On top of that, we also have a new measurement point. And this will be the first year where member states have to report against that new measurement point. That will be 2020 data. And looking at this, I would expect that this will reduce what's reported in terms of recycling rates as the new measurement point is stricter in terms of the measurement methodology. And this shows the challenge we have across Europe; to reach some of the targets, we have set ourselves.
In terms of what we need to do, I think one of the realisations over the past five years is that there is not one answer to that question. There is not one thing you can point at and say: this is what we need to do to meet this target.
One big realisation is that all parts of the supply chain need to work together for the targets to be met. So, we can take this out all the way to the brand owners of the packaging. They put the packaging on the market, and so are key in terms of the design for recycling for that packaging or agricultural plastic item. So, those putting packaging on the market have a role to play. We can take it to the organisations that are collecting the plastic at a national level. They have their role to play, as well. Previously, to reach the lower targets, people could pick and choose what plastics they wanted to collect to meet those targets. And so countries often chose those types which were the easiest to recycle and more economical to recycle. Well, now with the new targets, that luxury is gone, and all plastic packaging needs to be collected to make these targets. And then, if we look at sorting in the waste management operation. Again, here we have a wide range of different qualities and grades sorted across Europe, particularly when it comes to polyolefins and mixed plastics. And I think there are two things we need to do here if we're looking at the sorting. One is that we need to make sure that we recover as much as possible in terms of what's going into sorting centres. Secondly, we also have to focus on quality. 20, 30 years ago, the focus was all on just collecting more because we always knew there would be a market for what was collected. But at a levels of collection now, we need to also look at the demand side as well. Where can this recycled plastic that we are producing go in terms of applications? Particularly for our objective to increase the resource efficiency within Europe and keep this material within Europe, we need to look at that demand within Europe! With that in mind, I think standardising output grades is a topic that needs to be worked on and is discussed frequently. The quality of that material can also be fed into the recyclers to make the quality of recycled polymer meet that downstream demand. And then, of course, we have the recycling and technological developments regarding equipment and output quality. We also have converters, and all that floats back to the brand owners in terms of using that recycled material to create that demand. So, that is a very long answer to your question but what I’m saying is that it’s the whole supply chain, that entire circular economy, that needs to be looked at, and I think what’s been positive is that realisation. And the fact that we now have a lot of polymer-specific circular economy platforms in Europe. So, as I mentioned earlier, EPRO is active in PCEP, we also have PETCORE for PET, SCS for styrenics and of course the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA), and the whole supply chain is represented there. And I think those forums, where you get everyone together – perhaps with different perspectives and different experiences – to sit down and try to solve this problem together, are really important.
Regarding some numbers from the report, it could be deduced that the recycling rates will increase by 13 times if the material is sorted and cleaned. Significantly, if we raise the rates, we would need much more capacity for technical recycling or chemical, or whatever recycling. Given that we increase waste rates by recycling plastic, do you think the industry is running into a capacity problem?
You are raising a key issue here because we have targets coming up for 2025 and expect mandatory recycling content targets by 2030 at the latest. And obviously, we are seeing some mandatory targets at a national level coming in before this as well. Either mandatory as we are expecting it in Spain, although the legislation is still going through the legal process. Or the incentivised use of recycled content in other ways. For example, through fee modulation of EPR fees or in terms of minimising taxes due on the use of virgin polymer in specific situations.. We now have a plastics tax on packaging in the UK and similar taxes are due to be in place in Spain and Italy in 2023. Other countries will probably follow. These targets for recycling or use of recycled plastic are not far away if you’re considering infrastructure requirements because it takes time even to build that infrastructure. When you are talking about newer technologies, you mentioned chemical recycling. But also, we can look at other technologies such as dissolution or delamination, which all will have a role to play in meeting these targets. But it takes time to develop them and place them on the market, so we need to act pretty quickly. In terms of what infrastructure we need, the direction of travel is quite positive. The infrastructure in terms of sorting and in terms of mechanical recycling has increased significantly in the last three or four years, just from what we see on the ground. We are also seeing a reduction in the number of exports from the EU and more material being recycled in the EU, which is obviously great news and it is clear that we need further capacity developments to meet these targets. But exactly what type of capacity we might need? I think it will be driven by some of the legislation going through at the moment in terms of how those targets are set, for example for recycled content, and what level they will be set at because that will dictate what products the recycled plastic need to go into and in turn the type of recycling infrastructure that is required. In particular, whether or not we have targets for contact-sensitive packaging applications for food and pharmaceutical uses. It seems likely we will need a mix of recycling technologies moving forward to meet the expected policy objectives, both to treat certain more complex input waste streams and meet some end market demand requirements.
Thank you Mr. Jefferson, that was a lot of very interesting information and insights into EPRO's activities, including the recent Circular Gap Report and your personal activities within the association.
It was a great pleasure talking to you and we would like to thank you very much.
From a RIGK perspective we can only return the positive feedback about the cooperation with EPRO and you as its representative! We are looking forward to many years of cooperation in the future!
Mike Jefferson, Manager EPRO
Jan Bauer, Geschäftsführer