Plastic is everywhere, though most of the times it’s only been used once before it’s discarded. It ends up polluting the environment and at the same time, the economy is losing a valuable resource. Media covers the topic of plastics frequently. Considering over 1.5 million people in Europe being directly employed by the plastics industry[1], one can imagine the size of the political lobby for this topic. Plastic is political!

With the service life of plastics ranging from less than one year to 50 years and more[2], the awareness of the plastic-issue is present. Multiple organizations have addressed the problem. The UN Environment Programme for example released “Single-use plastics – A Roadmap for Sustainability” in 2018 stating: “We are already unable to cope with the amount of plastic waste we generate, unless we rethink the way we manufacture, use and manage plastics. Ultimately, tackling one of the biggest environmental scourges of our time will require governments to regulate, businesses to innovate and individuals to act.”[3]

The European Commission approaches the issue by targeting a 100 percent recycle rate of all plastic packaging by 2030 for the European market.[4] What will the path towards this aim look like though? So far, the plastic industry insists on voluntary actions and sincere efforts are nowhere to be found.

During BIOFACH 2019, Dr. Katharina Reuter, managing director of UnternehmensGrün – Federal Association of Green Business, discussed the requirement for the organic industry to take on a pioneering role in this matter. There already are companies that set a good example, such as Werner und Mertz, using 100 percent recycled plastics for their packaging of their Frosch cleaning agents.

Due to a wide range of packaging, waste separation tends to be far from straightforward. Hence, board member of UnternehmensGrün and expert on sustainable packaging, Martina Merz, demands designers and producers to explicitly mark packaging with their appropriate way of disposal. An idea could also be a label according to the quality class of packaging towards sustainability, similar to the energy efficiency label (A+++), as Reuter suggests. Either way, for a circular economy, the design of products matters. Design and marketing agency Mutter for example focuses on a cradle to cradle design and claims that new designs will lead to new business models.[5]

Biodegradable plastics are not seen as a viable alternative, though. They do not belong into organic waste bins (the decay takes too long) and are easily confused with “normal” plastic and ultimately recycled as such. This is highly ineffective as they often end up interfering with the recycling process.

The demand of startups for sustainable solutions for packaging are a great motor towards change. Nevertheless, what it takes are political guidelines in order to establish more sustainable solutions on the market for good, remarks Reuter.

UnternehmensGrün will advocate price incentives for the broad use of recyclate on political level. This could be achieved for example through a possible reduction of the value added tax (VAT) on products made from recyclate. Furthermore, UnternehmensGrün demands higher recycling rates and higher license fees for multi-layer packaging.

UnternehmensGrün’s umbrella association, Ecopreneur.eu, the European Sustainable Business Federation focuses their work on circular economy and launched a Circularity Check. In an interview, Ecopreneur’s Arthur ten Wolde states that growing support is needed to pass more ambitious legislation, such as opening the VAT, a ban on all intentionally added microplastics, and ambitious policies for circular procurement and eco-design. With the elections of the European Parliament in May, Ecopreneur advocates to keep the circular economy as a priority for the next European Commission. If that works out well, important changes in the business environment favoring circular and sustainable business models should be possible during the coming years, says ten Wolde.[6]

[1] Vgl. PlasticsEurope (2018): Annual Review 2017-2018. www.plasticseurope.org, p. 2 (April 29, 2019).

[2] Vgl. PlasticsEurope (2018): Plastics – An analysis of European plastics production, demand and waste data. www.plasticseurope.org/Plastics_the_facts.pdf, p. 29 (April 29, 2019).

[3] United Nations Environment Programme (2018): SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: A Roadmap for Sustainability. www.unep.org/single-use-plastics, p.vi (April 29, 2019).

[4] Vgl. European Commission (2018): Kunststoffabfälle: eine europäische Strategie zum Schutz unseres Planeten und unserer Bürger und zur Stärkung unserer Industrie. www.europa.eu (April 29, 2019).

[5] Vgl. Buck, C. (n. d.): Ein intelligenter Kreislauf. In: enorm. Zukunft fängt bei dir an. www.enorm-magazin.de/intelligenter-kreislauf (April 29,2019).

[6] Vgl. UnternehmensGrün e.V. (2019): Der Mehrwert der Kreislaufwirtschaft für unsere Wirtschaft. www.unternehmensgruen.org/mehrwert-der-kreislaufwirtschaft (April 29, 2019).