The European Union’s (EU) Circular Economy strategy aims to move towards a more sustainable production model, reducing the use of energy and different materials and seeking to reintegrate waste into the ecosystem or, in turn, towards new production processes. 

Plastics play a key role in this scheme, as they are key to industries such as the food, automotive and healthcare sectors. However, it is necessary for the Member States to address their environmental impact with even greater resources. To this end, Europe has set a target date of 2030. By this year, all plastics marketed on the continent must be compostable, reusable or recyclable in a cost-effective manner.

From that point on, the challenge is to have laid the foundations for a new plastic economy, in which production fully respects the needs of reuse and recycling, while developing and promoting more sustainable materials. In fact, the initial 2015 action plan adopted by the European Commission already warned that the way to curb plastic pollution and its negative impact on citizens’ lives was to encourage innovation. This means contributing not only to the reuse of more plastic, but also to extending its useful life and its continued use in different industries and sectors.

Innovation in plastic recycling extends the useful life of plastic and its use in various industries

This is why the work of companies such as RepetCo, which offers its own patented, nature-friendly system for post-consumer food multilayer PET/PE packaging, is so important. Through a unique process, rPET pellets and rPE are generated that can be reused in the food industry with multilayer PET/PE trays and sheet packaging; in bottles for soft drinks or detergents; and in fibers for the textile and automotive industries.

Bioplastics, compostable or biodegradable plastics

To better understand this new reality about the use of plastic, it is necessary to differentiate between plastics that are biodegradable, those that are compostable and those that are directly referred to as bioplastics.

Biodegradable plastics can degrade into carbon dioxide and water through the action of microorganisms in the environment in which they are found. The most common example is detergent capsules.

Compostable plastics are those that, at the end of their useful life, decompose, transforming into organic compost without leaving organic waste. Waste collection bags or some types of coffee filters are examples of compostable plastics.

Bioplastics come from renewable biological sources or plant products, such as agricultural residues, potato starch or algae, which are transformed into raw materials from which plastic can be made. Perhaps the best known example is sugar cane, which after various processes can be transformed first into ethylene and then into polyethylene, a type of plastic that has various commercial uses.

Compostable plastic eventually turns into organic compost that leaves no residue in the ecosystem

A strategy on several fronts

In order to succeed in its objectives, the EU is committed to the use of plastic in different ways, such as recycling or compostable plastic.

In relation to recycling, the premise is to consolidate a system that completely transforms the traditional linear model of consumption, moving from use and throw away to another based on the constant use of plastic packaging. The reuse of plastic will serve to improve access to resources for many industries, reducing costs, and will also offer important business opportunities for companies that are committed to innovation in the recycling of rPET packaging, increasing the management of plastic materials and extending their useful life.

In addition, the aim is to promote the use of biodegradable and compostable plastics under the challenge that, by 2030, the full implementation of the Circular Economy in Europe will reduce urban waste by around 65%. To achieve this, it will be necessary to continue promoting innovation to improve designs and management systems and, ultimately, to extend the useful life of plastic. A firm commitment to this from all levels will not only help to create jobs in an industry of the future but will also significantly reduce the volume of greenhouse gas emissions and the dependence of European countries on the use of fossil fuels.

Other articles of interest:  Extending the life of plastic: The rPET Circular Economy.