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EU commissioner urges green future for plastics

By: David Eldridge

September 25, 2012

WEISBADEN, GERMANY (Sept. 25, 12:45 p.m. ET) — Plastics have some important environmental advantages but the plastics industry can do more to reduce their overall impact, according to Janez Poto├äŹnik, European Commissioner for the Environment.

“I believe in the future of the European plastics industry. But the time has come to be more critical of our use of plastics,” Poto├äŹnik said on Sept. 21 at the PolyTalk event organized by PlasticsEurope in Wiesbaden.

The commissioner expressed his views to a gathering of business leaders from the European plastics industry, representatives of the green lobby and officials from European organizations.

“We need green economics and we need green economics in the plastics industry,” he said.

Poto├äŹnik acknowledged the benefits of plastics, such as their lightweighting advantage in areas such as automotive and packaging.

However, the moves towards innovation and sustainability have set the challenge of how to make the most of plastics’ benefits without increasing environmental impacts.

“Future competitiveness will depend on doing more with less,” he said.

One challenge is to improve plastics recycling in the European Union. While some countries have high recycling rates, others are sending too much plastic to landfill.

Poto├äŹnik suggested incineration of waste plastics for energy recovery could constrain the supply of raw material for plastics recycling.

“Too often plastics is downcycled, not recycled,” he said.

Poto├äŹnik also urged the plastics industry to help develop products which are designed for sustainability, products that can be repaired, updated and dismantled easily.

Major environmental issues for the plastics industry include marine litter and the proliferation of carrier bags. The European Commission is currently assessing options to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags.

Poto├äŹnik seemed to rule out the possibility of a ban on plastic carrier bags, telling the PolyTalk audience that “pricing measures plus targets are the most likely option.”