6 September 2017

In the EU more than 1.4 million people work in the plastics industry, which is worth over EUR 350 billion annually. There is still a high reliance on virgin, petroleum intensive materials and recycling rates of plastic are low. Mechanical recycling of plastics cannot be expected to effectively ‘close the loop’ on the long term because of the issue of downcycling. Microplastics are continuously released from wear and tear of products made from plastic to water, air, food chains, with human exposure as a result. The current lack of transparency of the chemicals used to make plastic products makes it difficult to know which plastic waste streams contain hazardous chemicals and which are suitable for another lifecycle. A growing number of voices is calling for an emphasis on dematerialisation of the European plastics economy, reuse and repair of goods, a move away from single use applications and phasing out more hazardous chemical plastic additives. What if the future could hold more materials that retain their functionality, performance and value in long-term recycling loops? With the upcoming plastics strategy the EU hopes to improve framework conditions for investment and innovation, and help the plastic industry become more circular and resource-efficient, bringing more jobs and further growth. This will require reinventing plastics as we know them.