Plastics have some important environmental advantages but the plastics industry can do more to reduce their overall impact, according to Janez PotoÃnik, 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,” PotoÃnik said on 21 September at the PolyTalk event organised by PlasticsEurope in Wiesbaden, Germany.
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 organisations.
“We need green economics and we need green economics in the plastics industry,” he said.
PotoÃnik 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 EU. While some countries have high recycling rates, others are sending too much plastic to landfill.
PotoÃnik 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.
PotoÃnik 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.
PotoÃnik 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”.