Yesterday, Plastics Europe launched a groundbreaking report, ReShaping Plastics: Pathways to a Circular, Climate Neutral Plastics System in Europe. We are very proud to have commissioned this report and welcome its valuable guidance and call for faster systemic change. It is an independent report developed by systems change company SYSTEMIQ, with the input of leading experts from civil society, policymakers and industry. It was commissioned because we recognize the severity of the climate crisis and the challenge of plastic waste, and support the EU’s ambition to transition to net-zero emissions and circular economy by 2050, and its 2030 emission-reduction targets.
ReShaping Plastics looks at our progress to date, evaluates the current position of the wider European plastics systems, and explores the potential pathways for transitioning towards the EU’s net-zero carbon emissions and circularity goals by 2050. It sets out a series of scenarios based on current publicly-available market data on innovations, commitments and policies, and makes projections about how these different elements, including emerging technologies, may play out over a long time period. It identifies that the key driver of system emissions reduction is circularity in the short to medium term, and highlights the need for all upstream and downstream levers to be engaged. This includes mechanical and chemical recycling, the use of alternative raw materials such as bio feedstocks, and designing products for recycling and reuse.
The report finds, for example, that current industry and policy actions could more than double system circularity from 14 percent to 30 percent by 2030, leading to a reduction of 11 million tons (Mt) of CO2 emissions and 4.7 Mt less plastic waste. Significant short- and longer-term investments from different private and public actors, as well as further technological innovations, new infrastructure, and business models are also essential. Our members have ramped up their investments and innovations in recent years, although it will take a number of years before the full benefits are felt.
The wider European plastics system is extremely big and complex. Plastics manufacturers do not control all of the levers and we do not have all answers, which is why we support the call for more intense and effective collaboration between our industry, value chain and policymakers.
The report’s authors confirm that the substitution of plastics with other materials provides very limited scope for reaching net-zero emissions, and that plastics have a vital role to play in achieving the EU´s broader net-zero emissions goals. They deliver emissions savings in key sectors like construction, automotive, packaging and medical, and are indispensable for the development of renewable energy technologies. But the conclusions are clear: faster systemic change is essential, and there has to be more intense and effective collaboration between our industry, our value chain and policymakers. We are under no illusions about the scale and complexity of the transition. We cannot do this alone.
Europe’s plastics manufacturers have not just woken up to this challenge. On a weekly basis, our member companies are publicly announcing substantial investments, innovations and partnerships to help drive these systemic changes. These include investments in advanced recycling technologies, renewable energy and the production of more plastics from bio feedstocks and other potential sources of carbon such as CO2 capture. Together with our value-chain partners, we are working to deliver new systems thinking, mindset and behavioral changes, higher-performing products, eco-design innovation and new infrastructure.
To accelerate the transition, we need a new, stable, and long-term-oriented policy framework. One that better incentivizes investment and innovation. Rather than fragmentation, we must harness the power of the EU Single Market. A single market of 27 member countries, all pushing in the same direction is a powerful force. It must also keep the European industry globally competitive as we undertake this transition.
To be successful, this new framework must ensure the availability of high-quality feedstock, as well as sufficient access to affordable, abundant renewable and low-carbon energy. Supporting the industry’s need to innovate in a rapidly-evolving world is essential. Chemical recycling, for example, should be incentivized and supported to accelerate scale and technological advancement.
Plastics Europe is also proposing a package of measures to help implement the report’s recommendations. We will develop a roadmap for our industry. This will address the milestones, targets, levers and different pathways. We will explore the potential of a step-change in collaboration with policymakers and the plastics value chain and our policy positions will be designed to accelerate the plastics’ system’s transition towards higher circularity and net-zero emissions by 2050.
The report was commissioned to help inform and guide the decisions of Plastics Europe, our members, and all stakeholders. It is your report as much as it is ours. We hope that you will find it as valuable as we do, and that we can work together to take advantage of this opportunity for delivering the faster systemic change it demands.
To find out more visit plasticseurope.org/reshaping-plastics/