The Real Academia Española (RAE) defines a standard as a rule that must be followed or to which conduct, tasks, activities, etc. must be adjusted. So, the objective of standardisation is to draw up a series of technical specifications or standards that are used by organisations to guarantee the quality and safety of their activities and products. In Spain, the Asociación Española de Normalización (UNE), formerly known as AENOR, is the official organism in charge of standardisation. It has been appointed by the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Competitividad (Ministry of Economy and Industry) as its representative in the European Commission. It is also the Spanish representative in the international ISO/IEC and European CEN/CENELEC organisations.

According to the UNE itself, standards benefit all sectors of activity, and on average, accounts for up to 5% of a company’s sales revenue and, according to the OECD, are the basis for 80% of international trade. Furthermore, according to the Instituto de Estudios Económicos (Institute of Economic Studies), standards account for 1% of GDP of the Spanish economy. UNE currently has issued more than 34,000 standards. Of these, 4,000 help companies achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDAs) and more than 500 support the circular economy.

CTN 53 ‘Plastics and rubber’

In the UNE, the CTN 53 ‘Plastics and Rubber’ committee is responsible for standardisation activity related to most of this sector. The Asociación Española de Industriales de Plásticos (ANAIP) is the secretary of this CTN 53 committee, which groups companies of the plastics transformation sector.

This committee has a large structure and is divided into nine sub-committees (SC) and two working groups (WG). The current structure is as follows:

Source: ANAIP

Some examples of standards that help to market products and which have been developed by the CTN 53 are:

  • UNE-EN 17033. Biodegradable mulching films for use in agriculture and horticulture.
  • UNE-EN 17176-1, 2 and 5. Plastic piping systems for water supply, irrigation, sanitation, and sewage, underground or above ground, with pressure. Unplasticised oriented poly (vinyl chloride) (PVC-O)
  • PNE 53929. Rehabilitation of supply and sewer pipes with continuous pipes cured in situ (CIPP). Design, calculation and installation.
  • UNE 53928. Reusable polypropylene (PP) cups for food use.
  • UNE 53942:2014. Reusable Polyethylene (PE) bags for the transport of retail distributed products.
  • UNE 53930. Reusable bag with high recycled content for the transport of products.
  • UNE 53972. Recycled PP materials. Characteristics and typology.
  • UNE 53978. Recycled PE materials.

CTN 53/S8 Subcommittee for the recycling of plastics

Once the standardisation activity of CTN 53 ‘Plastics and rubber’ has been reviewed, one of its sub-committees, the CTN 53/SC 8 Plastics recycling, develops it further. It is currently one of the most relevant due to its significant activity and its close relationship with the Circular Economy. The key issues this group focusses on are:

  • Proving the quality and reliability of recycled plastics
  • Members, both processers and recyclers, discuss the key issues
  • Finding the right site for recycled materials
  • Following rules that make it difficult or prohibit the use of recycled material
  • The group works with the “mirror” SCs and WGs at European and international level

Additionally, standardisation is one of the tools used to achieve the goal of promoting the use of 10 million tonnes of recycled plastic. This is reflected in the increased activity of this sub-committee, which has resulted in the revision and publication of some standards:

  • UNE 53930-1 Plastics. Plastic bags with high recycled content for product transport. Part 1: General
  • UNE 53930-2 Plastics. Plastic bag with high recycled content for transporting products. Part 2: Polyethylene (PE) bags
  • UNE 53978 Recycled polyethylene (PE) materials
  • UNE 53972 Recycled polypropylene (PP) materials

There is no doubt that using recycled plastic is necessary and that the trend in this direction should continue upward. However, we must ask ourselves whether this has been done properly or whether there is still room for improvement. The advantages of recycled plastic materials are evident: waste is a resource, has a smaller carbon footprint and makes us less dependent on the resources of third countries, which is not the case with virgin material.