EuRIC, FEAD and NGOs back "polymer-only” allocation method for plastic from chemical recycling


In the coming weeks, the European Commission plans to adopt rules for calculating recycled content in plastics in an implementing decision of the Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD). Specifically, the Decision will govern how the use of output materials from chemical recycling in the production of new plastics is to be allocated and verified.

The Commission's most recent draft discussed at the end of February would allow use of the "fuel-use-exempt" mass balance allocation model. This model is favoured by the petrochemicals industry, but rejected by a coalition of industry associations and NGOs. It consists of the European Waste Management Association (FEAD), the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) as well as environmental groups such as Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS) and the Minderoo Foundation as well as by the European Sustainable Business Federation Ecopreneur.

These organisations sent a joint letter to policy officers of the European Commission’s DG Environment last week urging them to consider amending the proposal’s allocation rules. They warned that a decision for the wrong methodology today would "have implications beyond its immediate scope". Current decisions were likely to shape future legislation such as the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), the Ecodesign for Sustainable Product Regulation (ESPR) and the End-of-life Vehicles (ELV) Regulation, they argued.

Priority for segregation and controlled-blending models

The letter's signatories recommend that the SUPD implementing decision prioritise the use of segregation and controlled-blending models where applicable. Mass balance accounting should "only be used as a last resort when other models providing greater transparency and traceability (i.e. segregation and controlled blending) are not feasible to fully maximise the benefits of recycling", they wrote. Where this is not feasible, FEAD, EuRIC and the other members of the NGO-business coalition propose considering a mass balance with polymer-only allocation "as a compromise".

FEAD had outlined its criticism of the fuel-use-exempt method in a policy statement issued earlier in February, in which it wrote that the "method cannot be universally applied to all technologies and presents several drawbacks". The waste management association argued in its position paper that the fuel-use exempt allocation approach distorts the actual recycled content of a polymer, running counter to the growing demand for transparency, and that use of that model left recyclers exposed to potential greenwashing accusations.

FEAD cautioned in its policy paper that the model currently preferred by the Commission would allow the petrochemical industry to claim to have achieved high levels of recycled content while using only minimal amounts of plastic waste-derived pyrolysis oil, thereby slowing the transition away from fossil-based plastic. This would create an uneven playing field for manufacturers and recyclers already utilising 100 per cent plastic waste as feedstock.

Mechanical recycling has "key advantages"

The European waste management umbrella association also warned that feedstock suitable for mechanical recycling could be diverted to chemical processes, even though mechanical recycling technologies had a number of key advantages over chemical methods. CO2 emissions from mechanical recycling were much lower than the most commonly used chemical processes, while producing a much greater material yield, said FEAD. Some tens of thousands of jobs had been created in the EU through mechanical recycling, which could be threatened if plastic waste were to be diverted to a few chemical recycling plants.

FEAD has also called for rules setting “clear boundaries” for mass balance allocation. Companies should be barred from holding a negative recycling credit balance or from transferring credits between different sites or between companies. The rules must require the conversion factor to be based on representative site-specific operational data and reflect production during the specific mass balance period, which must not exceed three months in duration. FEAD also believes that all recycling credit calculations must be independently verified and that a revision clause has to be included in the legislation. The members of the NGO-business coalition likewise called for allocation rules to be "stringent" when mass balance allocation is needed.

The final draft of the calculation rules will be submitted for adoption to the Committee for the Adaptation of EU Waste Legislation to Scientific and Technical Progress (TAC), which is made up of representatives of the member states and chaired by the Commission. To be adopted, the proposal must secure a double majority, meaning that both a majority of the members states, representing a majority of EU residents, must vote in favour of its adoption.

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