Plastic Recycling must grow by 80% to hit new EU targets

Ireland must increase its plastic packaging recycling by as much as 80% by 2030 if it is to meet strict EU targets on plastic recycling according to Repak, which says the move will require a ‘major social attitudinal change to plastic use, reuse and recycling’.

The packaging recycling body today launched its Repak Plastic Packaging Recycling Strategy 2018-2030 and is calling on the government to urgently establish a plastics working group to oversee the transition to greater recycling.

Under the European Commission’s plan, Ireland must increase its plastic packaging recycling from over 98,000 tonnes today to 175,000 tonnes by 2030. This will have to be done while both the economy and population are growing, something that will be a ‘monumental’ challenge to society according to Repak.

The report insists Ireland must move away from the ‘take – make – use and dispose’ method of consuming plastics and needs to make recycling and reusing plastic, regular behaviour across society. It predicts that a dramatic reduction in plastic consumption is unlikely to be achieved in the short-term and therefore changing how we use and reuse plastics is the new goal.

The report highlights that despite a very strong plastic recycling performance in Ireland of 36%, which is well in excess of the current EU targets, 20% of our plastics are still ending up in landfills or being incinerated. The report also shows that 87,000 tonnes of non-recyclable content is ending up in recycling bins and is preventing plastic material from being recycled due to contamination. Contamination is when non-recyclable materials are placed into the recycling bin and this can be as high as 40% in some urban areas. While around 40% of all the plastic that is produced is used to protect and preserve products, such as food, most of this packaging gets thrown away immediately and not all of it is recyclable.

Key actions recommended in the report are that government would establish a plastic packaging working group with terms of reference and for Repak to review its member’s fee structure so that placing items that are easier to recycle on the market will be incentivised. It recommends that a national communications committee be established between waste collectors so that messaging on how to recycle is co-ordinated throughout the country.

Significantly, the document proposes a ‘Plastic Pledge’ for Repak member companies, committing producers to reducing their complex packaging, using more recyclable material in their packaging and embracing eco-design when introducing new products.  The report also recommends the establishment of an eco-design workshop for new plastic products as 80% of the sustainability of a plastic product comes from the design.

Speaking at the launch of the plan, Séamus Clancy Repak’s CEO, said: “This is something that will require a monumental social change in attitudes to plastic use. Our take, make-use-dispose attitude to plastic cannot continue into the future and will have to be replaced with a more circular, recycle and reuse approach.

The challenge is similar to what was required with the approach to the plastic bag levy and requires behavioural change. Everybody along the waste supply chain will have to play their part including government, producers of packaging, the consumer, waste recovery operators and Repak itself.

This document outlines 35 key actions that should kick-start the process of achieving an 80% increase in the volume of plastic recycling in Ireland. Ireland’s current plastic recycling rate is 36% which is well above the current EU target of 22.5% and Repak members can take credit for that. However, one in every five tonnes of plastics is still ending up in landfill in Ireland and 25% of all content ending up in green bins is not actually recyclable. This makes achieving this target even more challenging.

The Plastic Pledge is highly significantWe’ll be encouraging our Repak members to sign up to our ‘Plastic Pledge’ thus showing that they’re committed to tackling plastic packaging waste. This will involve making reductions to the level of complex packaging, using easier-to- recycle material for packaging and embracing new packaging designs in the future.”

The 48-page document contains 35 proposed actions and highlights the significant challenges in meeting the 2030 targets. It acknowledges that the issue is complex and that there are gaps in the information between the EPA Plastics Packaging Waste Data and Repak’s member data, requiring a new and dynamic policy environment.

Repak’s plan aims to assist Ireland in meeting its EU targets and support the circular economy in a cost-effective manner while promoting the design and production of plastic products that optimises use and recycling. Repak estimates that it will require €200 million of investment across the public and private sectors to achieve the recycling targets over the period of the strategy.

The two-phase plastics strategy prioritises better design of plastics packaging, increased reuse and recycling, advocates for better consumer education and calls for improved data flows and evidence.

Phase 1 (2018 to 2020) proposes that all stakeholders should work on closing information gaps and adopt a framework for implementable actions. Phase 2 (2021-2030) will see Repak publish a fully-costed revised detailed strategy recommending further measures to meet the targets, based on further evidence based on evidence gather in the initial phase.

The Plan can be read in full here

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