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Multinationals ring alarm bells over EU recycling targets

Companies are failing to fully achieve their sustainable ambitions because of a shortage of good quality recycled plastic, a group of multinationals has told the European Commissioner Frans Timmermans.

In line with the EU’s Green Deal, European companies and industries have to be climate neutral by 2050. Packaging must be fully recyclable by 2030 and made largely with recycled plastics. Eight multinationals based in the Netherlands (Unilever, Philips, Shell, AkzoNobel, Heineken, DSM, FrieslandCampina and KLM) say there is a much good will and ambition but it is an immense task for companies and governments to achieve the targets.

Incentives needed

According to the companies in a report sent to Timmermans, there is insufficient supply of good quality recycled plastic to support the Green Deal requirements. ‘When you recycle, the quality usually decreases,’ says Unilever ceo Annemarieke de Haan in Dutch media reports. ‘Innovation is needed to get more plastics of better quality but the financial incentives for this are lacking. It is very strange that recycled plastic is currently more expensive than new.’

The Netherlands is among the frontrunners in Europe when it comes to recycling but also suffers from a lack of scrap plastic to make new high-quality products. ‘We are responsible for the design of the products,’ says de Haan. ‘They must be fully recyclable, without a cap or sticker made of another material.’

Sorting headaches

However, the companies say, the value chain that follows a product’s manufacture must be fully coordinated before it can be recycled. For example, Unilever has developed a soup pouch that consists of one recyclable material. ‘But then it turns out that the sorting machines cannot filter out a piece smaller than an A4 sheet.’

There is a lot more work to be done in other European countries. In Greece, Bulgaria and Croatia, for example, 70-80% of waste is still dumped in landfills.

Cross border transports

An extra hurdle is that European regulations make it difficult to transport plastic waste across borders for recycling in countries where processing is best regulated, says the report. This leads to lower volumes and higher costs, according to the multinationals.

The report concludes that change can only come if all parties involved work together.

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