Plastics Europe presents a roadmap for the transition to a circular, net-zero plastics system


Plastics Europe, the European umbrella association of plastics manufacturers, has unveiled a plan to reimagine the European plastic sector at the end of October. Its "Plastics Transition" roadmap aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the overall plastics system by 28 per cent by 2030, putting the industry on a pathway towards reaching net zero by 2050. The plan was an invitation to policymakers and value-chain members to work together and work faster, the association said. 

Virginia Janssens, Plastics Europe's managing director, remarked: "To be successful, critical action, real collaboration and explicit political will is needed. Decisions taken in the next few years will determine whether and how quickly we can fulfil the ambitions set-out in the roadmap. We urgently need an enabling policy and regulatory framework that stimulates circular markets and industry investments in Europe, rather than hinders the industry’s transition. The window of opportunity to make these accountable decisions is rapidly closing." Ms Janssens added that it was "really critical that we get on with this roadmap and programme and accelerate where we possibly can".

The roadmap aims to increase plastics circularity in Europe to 65 per cent by 2050 and reduce reliance on fossil fuels from around 90 per cent in 2021 to 35 per cent in 2050. The increased reuse of plastics would also play a role in this more circular future, in addition to mechanical and chemical recycling and new feedstock souces. Plastics Europe stated that the industry wanted to replace fossil-based plastic with plastic based on biomass, recycled materials and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU).

According to the organisation, 19.5 per cent of all plastics are already made out of circular raw materials today. The Plastics Transition roadmap now sets out tangible measures, milestones and targets to raise the share of circular plastics. However, this ambitious plan also needed support from the European Commission to succeed, Plastics Europe noted.

Call for immediate action

The report recommends immediate actions to be taken from 2023 to 2025 to help the industry make the changes that are needed. These steps included forging partnerships with waste management companies to secure the circular raw materials needed to drive circularity, making investments in new technologies, and working together to accelerate the pace of technical development. Another immediate government measure to promote circularity would be to provide legal recognition for a fuel-exempt mass balance approach for chemical recycling to determine recycled content.

In the short term (2026–2027), the roadmap recommends switching to circular practices, such as recycling, biomass-based production, and carbon capture, as well as making investments in joint infrastructure for hydrogen, renewable energy and carbon capture and storage.

Recommended medium-term actions (2028–2030) include the large-scale ramp-up of chemical recycling through investments in capacity and partnerships with technology providers.

First and foremost, products had to be manufactured in such a way that they consumed less material and could be recycled more easily, Plastics Europe stated. Moreover, the expansion of reusable systems and circular business models must be promoted. The report noted that investments in modern facilities for collecting, sorting and recycling plastic waste, mandatory recycled content targets, an EU-wide landfill ban and the expansion of extended producer responsibility (EPR) were also needed.

The Plastics Transition Roadmap was developed by Plastics Europe in partnership with the business consulting firm Deloitte. In "Plastics the fast facts" published earlier in October, Plastics Europe reported that the share of recycled and bio-based plastic reached a record high in 2022.

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