France: The odds for plastics recycling in Europe are slowly but surely improving, with an average of 26% of plastic waste recycled across the continent. 'Also, we know there is already a plan to implement a landfill ban in Poland. So, even in countries like that things are set to change,' said Martin Engelman, Plastics Europe's resource efficiency director at this year's edition of Identiplast.
'Zero Plastics to Landfill' was at the heart of the conference, which was held in Paris. Engelman observed that Europe is making big leaps towards reaching this goal.
However, but noted that there are still 7 countries that landfill 'over two thirds of their plastic waste'. A worrying trend is that 80% of plastic waste is landfilled in just 5 countries, he added.
A slow start
He hailed Germany as an example of sustainable dedication. The country implemented a landfill ban in 2001 after struggling with a 41% dumping rate that year. This was greatly reduced to 10% in 2005 and to only 1% in 2012. 'During the first two years not much had changed, but after a slow start the industry caught up,' Engelman told delegates.
The audience was equally convinced of the need to phase out plastics dumping. An extensive round of digivoting showed 66% of delegates thought this an 'essential goal that must be achieved'.
Meanwhile 27% labelled it a promising concept that must be 'further developed'. Only 2% said it was a 'constraint not an opportunity' and another 2% labelled it an 'irrelevant idea'.
'Slightly out of reach'
Seeing as the objective is very ambitious, a number of elements – taxes, bans, recycling incentives and quotas for recycled materials – must be combined to have the desired effect, argued Vanya Veras, secretary general at Municipal Waste Europe (MWE). 'I find it difficult to point towards one solution only. What we need to do is set goals that are slightly out of our reach. We can’t make it easy for ourselves,' she reasoned.
Besides eco-design, incineration was one of the main bones of contention at the Paris event. No less than 75 incinerators have been constructed in Germany and there are 3 such plants around Paris alone. 'We have not been intelligent enough the last 10 years to recognise our potential,' claimed Prof. Dr. Jur. Helmut Maurer, legal advisor for the European Commission’s DG Environment Waste Management Unit.
He stressed: 'The future is not for waste-to-energy – that is only a downstream technology to fill the gap. I understand that might not be a very popular message but this is the truth!'
A more detailed report about Identiplast will be published in our December issue.