On 11 December 2019, the European Commission (EC) published the long-awaited Communication on the European Green Deal, which highlights the new EU leadership’s climate and sustainability ambitions. Amongst others, the Commission foresees the adaption of a new Industrial Strategy closely linked to a new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP). “This action plan marks Europe’s way to become a resource-efficient and competitive economy with zero net green house gas emissions by 2050. We see our industry in a crucial role to help achieving the Deal’s goals via ambitious circular bioeconomic actions”, commented EUBP Chairman François de Bie as one of plastics industry’s first voices. European Bioplastics already had been actively engaged in the consultation process for CEAP’s roadmap. The final action plan is expected to be published in March.

With a reference to the Roadmap’s scope of the initiative it became obvious that the new CEAP needs a more comprehensive approach in order to shape a competitive and clean EU plastics sector (a dedicated main sector of the initiative), which contributes to the goals of the Green Deal. In addition to the rough principles set out in the roadmap the CEAP will need a broader perspective, including innovative links to the bioeconomy as well as understanding recycling as means to close material as well as organic cycles.

In order to fully reflect the Green Deal’s core ambition to achieve climate neutrality for the plastics sector by 2050, the roadmap and the CEAP itself should include the following:

  1. Prevention and reuse concepts in the packaging sector should only be prioritised as long as they are feasible and preferable from a sustainability point of view. They should have no negative affect on the environmental impact, safety, health, hygiene and food waste reduction. Differentiated measures based on a strong scientific fact base are paramount.
  2. Link bioeconomy and circular economy, which is paramount to achieving climate neutrality. Because the Green Deal requests to challenge fossil subsidies and the consideration of alternative resources, also CEAP and its roadmap should take bio-based solutions into account. Therefore, it is strongly recommendable that the new CEAP includes the work order to develop a framework for bio-based plastics as already mentioned in the Green Deal. Consequently, it should also issue the link between feedstock and the plastics industry.
  3. Besides focusing on closing the material cycle, the CEAP should also focus on the organic cycle, as organic waste stands for the largest fraction of our municipal waste, accounting for 40 to 50 percent. Without addressing the organic waste stream and the challenge of contaminated waste, circular material management will hardly be feasible.
  4. The new CEAP should comply with article 3 of the Waste Framework Directive and consider all three recycling options (mechanical, chemical and organic) for the recycling of plastic packaging.
  5. The design of recycling efforts, actions to foster the efficient collection of waste, as well as the establishment of a sufficient and modern treatment infrastructure need to go hand in hand. In order to support this approach, the EC should implement the provisions of the Packaging & Packaging Waste Directive.
  6. Regarding the envisaged development of a regulatory framework for biodegradable plastics, initially it would be important to clarify the terminology by establishing EN 13432 as the exclusive standard for plastics being referred to as “biodegradable and compostable”. Therefore, compostability should represent the determining criterion in identifying those plastic materials.
  7. In general, all actions to make plastics packaging more circular need to ensure that
  • resource use is not increasing,
  • food hygiene and food safety are nor compromised,
  • shelf-life and storage performance need to be at least equal to the current solution in order to prevent an increase in food waste.

The Green Deal underlined the focus of the new Commission’s political program with climate being the top priority during the next years. Achieving a circular economy is a crucial, but not the only objective included in the deal. For a successful implementation of the Green Deal, it’s important that circular economy interweaves with all other climate solutions outlined by the Commission. Especially, renewable carbon and circularity should be brought closer together. European Bioplastics will continue to support the on-going implementation process of the Green Deal.