While the focus of the plastic packaging sector remains strongly directed at sustainability, recycling rates have not kept pace with ambitions, according to a new report from Rabobank, a Dutch banking and financial services group.
Companies and industry groups across Europe and North America have committed to environmental protection pledges; governments are presenting regulations focused on managing plastic and plastic waste. Still, a large amount of waste never reaches recycling plants, ending up in landfills or incineration plants for energy recovery.
More than 500 of the most influential organizations globally have committed to roughly the goals adopted from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s vision for a circular economy: “By 2025, 100 percent of packaging should be recyclable, compostable, or reusable.”
But 2025 is less than two years away. If these sustainability goals are to be met, investment and concrete actions are needed now, the Rabobank report warns.
The report examines the situation in Europe and the United States, detailing the ongoing trends on both sides of the Atlantic. It looks at the end-of-life practices and legislation around the end of life in both regions, highlighting the need for packaging producers need to start investing and trialing now.
According to Jim Owen, Plastic Packaging Senior Analyst for Rabobank in North America, some options would be:
- Setting up well-funded R&D departments that can articulate all the trade-offs, specify material and equipment needs, and begin understanding the implications for shelf life.
- Establishing partnerships with recyclers and resin processors and investing in recycling (both advanced and mechanical) to ensure supply continuity; Educating consumers on packaging and, in the US, adhering to How2Recycle guidelines, in order to achieve higher recycling rates and greater access to recycled content.
- Discontinuing investment in outdated materials, working toward simplification with attention to end-of-life value.
- Being a part of extended producer responsibility (EPR) bill formation.
While recycling infrastructure and volumes have increased in Europe and North America in recent years, a large amount of recyclable waste never reaches recycling plants and ends up in landfills or incineration plants for energy recovery. “In the US, an average of 13.3 percent of plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2021, while in the EU, an average of 38 percent of plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2020,” said Regina Mestre, plastic packaging analyst for Rabobank in Europe.