Jacek Szczerba, a renowned plastics processing industry expert is about to publish a series of publications on the plastics industry’s and market’s needs
The Europe’s plastics industry strength mainly lies in 60,000 companies, most of which enterprises are Small and Medium enterprises which employ over 1.5 million people and generate the turnover of almost 350 billion Euros (2016 data). It is worth noting that the EU consumes around 50 million tons of plastics a year. Demand for plastics is expected to grow even further. Much too often, today’s plastics production, use and disposal methods make it impossible to obtain close-loop related benefits from the recovered materials. Thus the negative environment impact.
Therefore environment problems which overshadow plastics production, use and consumption need to be solved as quickly as possible. Millions of tonnes of plastic waste which land in the oceans every year are one of the most visible and alarming signs of this problem and therefore raise public concern. Thus circular economy is based on the 'fully conscious' plastic products design, rational use of plastic waste as a input resource.
Such a complex value chain analyses and improvement require all major stakeholders’ joint efforts and cooperation - from producers, through recyclers and retailers to consumers. Innovativeness and a shared vision on targeted investments are also necessary.
Challenges for plastics for the coming years
The plastics industry is very important for the European economy. A greater emphasis on this industry’s sustainability may create new innovation opportunities, increase competitiveness and offer job opportunities. All this in line with the EU’s revised industrial policy strategy’s objectives.
In December 2015 the Commission adopted an EU circular economy action plan which states that plastics are of key importance. The action plan is a commitment to "prepare a strategy addressing the challenges posed by plastics throughout the value chain
and taking into account their entire life-cycle'". In 2017 the Commission confirmed its focus on plastics production and use so as to ensure that all plastic packaging are recyclable by 2030.The publication of European Commission’s strategy on plastics in the circular economy is expected to provide a strong incentive for the plastics industry to increase their use of the materials which offer unique benefits for the general public.
Plastics, with its versatility, a wide range of properties and high efficiency have become the strategic sectors’ key materials - packaging, construction and civil engineering, transport, renewable energy, medical devices and many other. And there is much more to that - plastics have made it possible to innovate, develop products and solutions that would not have existed today without plastics.
Recycling and the efficient use of resources marks the future
The EU's position may play a vital role in switching to use the plastics of the future. The strategy is the cornerstone of the new-type plastics economy with plastics production and products fully adapted to re-use, repair and recycling, with more sustainable materials developed and promoted. Not only will this approach provide more added value and Europe’s prosperity but will also boost innovations and reduce plastic contamination and, in turn lower adverse impact on people's lives and the environment. The strategy objectives implementation will also contribute towards delivering the priority set by the Commission - the energy union in line with the modern, low-emission, resource and energy-saving economy principles as well as the 2030’s sustainable development policy and the Paris Agreement goals.
The strategy includes the most important commitments - i.e. the need to act at EU level. However, it is also necessary to involve the private sector in addition to national authorities and regional authorities, cities and citizens. Changes outside the EU will require international involvement. By taking determined and coordinated efforts, Europe can change challenges into opportunities and therefore set the example. Others can join in vigorous action at the international level.
In 2016, 27 million tonnes of plastic waste was collected in Europe, 27% of which was landfilled. Valuable resources were lost again. Approximately 8.4 million tons went to recycling plants, and 11.3 million tons went to the waste to energy stream. This shows that there is an obvious room for improvement - plastics may become a part of a real circular economy and improved resources utilisation. As the result, plastics will contribute towards delivering the European circular economy objectives designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the resource use efficiency and create new jobs. This can be achieved both through avoiding unnecessary material and energy losses throughout the product’s whole life cycle, by maximizing products’ value by increasing resources reuse and utilisation at a much higher level than today.