EuRIC argues that only plastic recycled in the EU should count towards PPWR targets

Cheap imports from third countries threaten plastics recycling within the EU


The European Recycling Industries' Confederation (EuRIC) has urged the EU legislators to protect the European plastics recycling sector and "immediately address the massive imports of plastics labelled as recycled". The umbrella association calls for the final text of the EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWR) to retain a provision requiring that the minimum recycled content targets for plastic packaging placed on the EU market be met exclusively using material derived from post-consumer plastic packaging waste collected and recycled within the EU.

In EuRIC's view, this requirement is a core principle of the proposed Regulation. If it were to be dropped, a "robust traceability system" with third-party verification would be essential. Any such system would have to guarantee that imports of plastics labelled as recycled did indeed originate from recycling and were produced under conditions equivalent to those in the EU in terms of environmental protection and health and safety, according to the umbrella organisation.

EU risks failing to meet recycling rates and recycled content targets

EuRIC describes these measures as "essential to level the playing field" between European plastics recyclers and companies importing virgin plastics and plastics labelled as recycled from non-EU countries. "Failing to alleviate the unbalanced pressure on recyclers risks Europe missing its legally binding recycling and recycled content targets as well as the opportunity to become the first carbon neutral continent by 2050," EuRIC cautioned.

EuRIC's urgent appeal comes as representatives of the EU Parliament and the Council are engaged in negotiations on the final text of the PPWR, with the next "political” trilogue meeting scheduled on 4 March. Where the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) introduced minimum recycled content targets for single-use beverage bottles, which are to be achieved from 2025 and 2029, the proposal for the PPWR contains targets for other types of plastic packaging which are to be achieved from 2030 and 2040.

The recycling industry association is sharply opposed to any changes to the provisions proposed by the European Commission which govern the recycled material which may be counted toward achievement of minimum recycled content targets.

The association points out that recycled content targets for plastic packaging have been instrumental in driving demand for recycled plastics. This contributes to reducing the carbon footprint of plastics, decreasing Europe’s reliance on oil imports, boosting circularity, and providing traceable and environmentally sound solutions for plastic waste generated in Europe.

Cheap imports threaten recyclers in the EU

European plastics recycling companies have invested "hundreds of millions of euros to meet circularity goals", but are now forced to operate well below their production capacity. This has also led to an increase in the implementation of temporary unemployment schemes, according to EuRIC.

The industry association blames imports of cheap primary PET and plastics labelled as recycled material from third countries for these developments. Imports have caused recyclate prices in the EU to drop by up to 50 per cent in 2023. EuRIC says it sees no indications of a recovery in prices for 2024.

The organisation stresses that imports, whether of primary plastics or of plastics labelled as recycled, fail to contribute to the EU's circularity goals: "Mainly imported from Asia, these plastics are processed under conditions that fall short of EU standards, with limited push for circularity of materials in their home countries. They're not produced from EU plastic waste, and the countries they come from have not implemented circularity targets like the EU's."

Closing the European plastic loop also "a matter of green industrial policy"

According to EuRIC, the proposed measures are also a matter of green industrial policy: "Recycled content serves as a market signal which has prompted a surge in investment to build recycling capacity in Europe. This aligns with the objectives of the new Circular Economy Action Plan, ensuring that the EU takes care of its own plastic waste. Under this rationale, the EU has specifically banned exports of plastics waste to non-OECD countries under the Waste Shipment Regulation."

As a consequence, plastic waste will have to be recycled and marketed within the EU. But "leaving European packaging plastics recyclers unprotected against a surge of plastics import from countries which often enjoy much lower energy costs and play by less stringent rules not only harms the environment, but also inflicts a tragic blow to investment in Europe’s greentech industry", EuRIC cautions.

No "priority access" for packaging producers

"Extremely low EU demand for recycled PET (rPET) from the beverage industry, coupled with major price fluctuations" poses "the greatest threat to packaging circularity", EuRIC's Plastic Recycling Branch (EPRB) had warned at the end of January in a separate press release. Recalling its support for a free, fair and efficient EU internal market, the Branch also reaffirmed its opposition to granting packaging producers "priority access" to recycled materials. This would give producers price-setting power and, as result, threaten the economic viability of packaging recycling.

EPRB also warned that rights of first refusal or similar measures could lead to market distortions, "likely breaching EU competition law and fragmenting the internal market because of inefficient material retention at national level". EuRIC urgently called for "fair prices" for plastic recyclates under the PPWR and the creation of an integrated EU international market for this material stream.

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