Europe is far from the plastic packaging recycling targets it set for itself. Take this step forward, and it will not reach those of 2025 nor those of 2030. This is the conclusion, not exactly heartening, reached by the European Court of Auditors in the analysis published on 6 October. More accurate recycling reporting rules and the tightening on the export of waste contribute to the poor recycling performance of the Member States. And even Covid-19 does not help: the concern about the health emergency has given, in fact, an inopportune push to single-use and disposable plastic.
From the plastic strategy to Covid-19
The plastics strategy adopted by the European Commission in 2018 focuses in particular on packaging. In fact, it is packaging - especially in the food sector, with water bottles in the lead - that accounts for over 60% of plastic waste generated in the European Union. Furthermore, of all types of packaging, plastic packaging has the lowest recycling rate in the EU (just over 40%).
The plastic strategy therefore intended to give a boost to the circular economy in this sector, doubling the current recycling target to 50 % by 2025 and even 55 % by 2030.
However, these targets still appear quite distant. “To meet its new recycling targets for plastic packaging, the EU must reverse the current situation, whereby we incinerate more than we recycle. This is a daunting challenge”, said Samo Jereb, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the review. “By resuscitating single-use habits amid sanitary concerns, the COVID pandemic shows that plastics will continue to be a mainstay of our economies, but also an ever-growing environmental threat.”
An increasingly difficult challenge
Calculation methods make a difference in the race for recycling targets. The European Commission wants to reach the established targets without cheating and with reliable figures. Therefore, with the amendment of the packaging directive, more rigorous criteria have been introduced to calculate the recycling rate, which could lead to a significant to a significant drop in reported recycling rates, from the current figure of 42 % to barely 30 %.
The recent Basel Convention also established stricter conditions for sending plastic waste abroad, which will be in effect from January 2021. A further obstacle to achieving the recycling targets, which as regards plastic packaging is achieved for a third through shipments to non-EU countries.
Now, says the Court of Auditors, "significant and concerted action is required if the EU is to almost double the amount of plastic packaging waste it recycles by 2030.". Among the initiatives capable of giving a push in this direction, the Court indicates the revision of packaging design rules and the strengthening of the Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.