Portugal – ‘Total global production of plastics grew from around 1.5 million tonnes in 1950 to 311 million tonnes in 2014; meanwhile, over 6.5 million tonnes was collected for recycling in Europe,’ Ton Emans told the recent Plastics Recyclers Europe congress, held at Cascais in Portugal. ‘Nearly 65% of this waste is packaging.’
The European plastics industry has taken ‘almost a quantum leap’ over the past two decades, Emans noted at the association’s 20th annual gathering. ‘But with only 26.3% recycling rates and landfill and incineration still dominating the sector, we cannot rest until we beat our high score.’ For EU member states, he advocated recycling targets higher than the current 65% objective.
‘Let’s aim higher, shall we? It is not impossible,’ Emans added. An increase in recycling would save huge quantities of oil and make Europe less dependent on resources from the rest of the world. ‘That alone is a reason to boost our recycling performance,’ he concluded.
Using common sense
‘One of the problems is that politicians often don’t realise how small the window of opportunity is; they take too long talking,’ lamented Helmut Maurer, who is an advisor to the European Commission’s DG Environment. ‘Also, some people are so fond of targets that they want targets for absolutely everything – even marine litter. Why can’t we just interpret existing laws with common sense?’
Another seemingly trivial question was what do Victoria Secret’s 2-in-1 Wash & Scrub and Dior’s Instant Gentile Exfoliant have in common? One might argue a silly name and overly sweet coconut smell – but also traces of multiple types of plastic, Maurer argued. ‘Big brands are putting polyethelene microbeads in beauty products like lipstick to make the colour last longer,’ he told delegates in Cascais, Portugal. ‘It is perverse!’
Plastics can be ‘bloody dangerous’, Maurer said. He explained: ‘This may sound over the top, but just consider this; a weapon is not dangerous in its own right. I have never seen a Kalashnikov rifle kill anyone. Put it into someone’s hands and then the outcome may be lethal.’ It is the same with plastics; it is people who make plastics harmful, Maurer insisted.
‘We should know better by now than to produce short-lived, cynical, toxic products that clog the recycling system or, worse, are designed to completely dissolve at end-of-life stage.’
A full report about the PRE congress will be featured in the August issue of Recycling International.