Ineos Chairman Jim Ratcliffe says that shale gas economics revitalized U.S. manufacturing “and for the first time ever Europe can access this essential energy and raw material source, too.” He says the U.S. shale will complement the declining supplies of gas from the North Sea.
The move to import shale gas is intended to be a stop-gap measure while Ineos goes about tapping reserves under the United Kingdom, whose government is among the most pro-fracking in the region. It is set to drill numerous test cores this year alone, although it does not plan any fracking in 2016.
The circular economy
On top of concerns about materials and energy supply, there is also growing awareness in Europe that more needs to be done about use, re-use, and preservation of precious plastics. Late last year, the European Commission adopted what it says is an ambitious new “Circular Economy Package” (CEP) to boost competitiveness, create jobs and generate sustainable growth. Implications for the European plastics industry are significant.
The Commission says CEP will “contribute to closing the loop of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy.”
Key actions adopted today or to be carried out under the current Commission's mandate include a strategy on plastics in the circular economy, addressing issues of recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances in plastics, and the Sustainable Development Goals target for significantly reducing marine litter.
The Commission has also proposed revisions to legislation on waste. Key elements include a common EU target for recycling 75 percent of packaging waste by 2030 and a ban on landfilling of separately collected waste. “The efficiency of recycling is lagging [growth in consumption] – less than 25 percent of plastic waste collected is recycled, and about 50 percent goes to landfill,” says the Commission.
The PlasticsEurope trade association for plastics manufacturers has welcomed CEP “as a step closer to resource efficiency,” but it has expressed concerns. “The European plastics industry has been calling for a legally binding landfill restriction on all recyclable as well as other recoverable post-consumer waste by 2025,” it says. “Although a 10 percent target constitutes a step in the right direction, it remains a timid attempt to put an end to the landfilling of all waste which can be used a resource.”
PlasticsEurope considers the new 2025 recycling and preparation for re-use target of 55 percent for plastic packaging waste as “an extremely ambitious objective;” the average plastics packaging recycling rate in Europe was under 40 percent in 2014. It says the optimum level for plastic packaging recycling lies between 35 percent and 50 percent, depending on the country's collection, sorting and recycling capacities.
European Bioplastics (EUBP), the trade association for suppliers of bio-based plastics, says that “forward looking sectors with strong environmental credentials and growth potential, such as bioplastics, need to be promoted. Materials used for industrial and commercial purposes should safely enter re-use, mechanical or biological recycling systems by design or intention.” Europe is home to many innovations in biopolymers, most famous of which is probably Novamont's Mater-Bi, now used for the vast majority of carrier bags in Italy (and for a growing number of other applications in packaging, agriculture, and the food service industry).
“With the right framework conditions in place, the European bioplastics industry could realize its immense employment growth potential while helping to lower the impact on the environment within the EU,” says EUBP. It predicts that by 2025 production capacities of bioplastics within the EU will have grown twentyfold to 5.7 million tons, equivalent to around 10 percent of general plastics production. Up to 160,000 high skilled jobs will have been created in the process.
Swimming in plastics
Meanwhile, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the United Kingdom-based charity set up in 2010 with the aim of accelerating the transition to a circular economy, has paired with the World Economic Forum to launch the report “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics.” The report “provides for the first time a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste,” and outlines concrete steps towards achieving the systemic shift needed.
According to the report, with most plastics packaging beings used only once, 95 percent of its value is lost to the economy. It also predicts that, “given projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20 percent of total oil production, and 15 percent of the annual carbon budget.