EU commissioner tells plastics to reduce impact
By David Eldridge, European Plastics News
Posted 26 September 2012
Despite plastics having some important environmental advantages the industry should be doing more to lessen their overall impact on environment, said Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment.
Speaking at the PolyTalk event organised by PlasticsEurope in Wiesbaden, Germany, last week, Potočnik said: “I believe in the future of the European plastics industry. But the time has come to be more critical of our use of plastics.”
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.
Potočnik acknowledged the benefits of plastics, such as their light-weighting 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.
Potočnik suggested incineration of waste plastics for energy recovery could constrain the supply of raw material for plastics recycling.
“Too often plastics are downcycled, not recycled,” he said.
Potočnik 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.
Potočnik 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”.
Also speaking at the Wiesbaden meeting was Sir Jonathan Porritt, founder of director of Forum for the Future, a UK-based sustainability think tank.
Porritt said he could sense the industry’s frustration at not being able to get across its message – that it contributes to sustainable developments in markets like automotive, packaging and construction – but he warned the sector against relying on finite resources of hydrocarbons for raw materials.
Continuing to do so would not stop the industry from developing sustainable innovations, “but it will stop the industry from becoming the force for good in society that it can be”, he added.
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