Paris — The flexible packaging industry brought a nuanced message to the global plastics treaty talks.
Executives joined the recent United Nations negotiating session in Paris to urge countries to include extended producer responsibility programs in any agreement.
The idea is that companies should pay more — and do more — to deal with the economic challenges of recycling and managing hard-to-process plastic waste.
But they also had a second message for diplomats who will now begin drafting language for the treaty — consider the benefits of the increasingly popular thin-film plastic packaging they make.
"It's easy to bash things and flexible packaging takes its fair share of bashing," said Graham Houlder, managing director of the European flexible packaging organization Ceflex. "It's normally referred to as complicated multimaterial packaging which can't be recycled, which No. 1, is not true."
Houlder spoke during a May 29 interview in Paris on the opening day of a five-day negotiating session, where he and a Ceflex delegation were advocating for financial measures like EPR to be in the treaty.
Fees on companies responsible for putting the packaging on the market are crucial to helping to pay for recycling, Ceflex said.
"To make it work, you need EPR because it's not realistic to expect to collect, sort and recycle these materials without some form of subsidization," he said.
Ceflex, which includes 180 companies and organizations in the flexible packaging supply chain across Europe, made several points in a written submission to the United Nations ahead of the Paris meeting, which drew diplomats from 170 countries and more than 1,500 observers like Houlder.
It said the treaty should include binding global requirements that plastic packaging be designed for recycling, that recycling targets be set at the national level and that governments create "sustainably funded" systems so that recyclers can get consistent feedstock and stability to invest.
Legislation can ensure that all companies pay their share and those that spend money to green their packaging don't become less competitive against those that don't, said the group, whose full name is Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging.
"From a Ceflex perspective, having a globally harmonized set of design-for-circularity criteria and an obligation to implement them would help to create a situation where businesses that invest in design-for-circularity are not put at a competitive disadvantage," Houlder said.