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  • Writer's pictureRonald Van der Meer

Extended Producer Responsibility will improve recycling rates to bring a circular future forward

The volume of plastic waste in our environment is continuing to grow, with the annual rate of leakage anticipated to nearly double to 44 million tonnes by 2060 [1] if we continue on our current path [2]. If we want to leave a healthy planet for future generations, we urgently need to change course.


Plastic packaging plays a crucial role in promoting health and sustainability by securing future food supplies. As demand for plastic products is expected to keep rising, it’s essential that we find better ways to capture their value after use — to close the loop, giving them an infinite life in new, high-value applications.


Having spent over two decades in waste management, I know there is strong industry demand for high-quality recyclates. To meet it, capacity is being increased through the construction of new recycling facilities. Alongside, more advanced recycling technologies are being developed to broaden the range of potential applications for recycled content. Yet, despite the progress being made, there is a challenge ahead: to secure a system that enables the maximum utilization of waste.


EPR offers a way forward

One of the most promising developments I’ve witnessed during my career has been the expansion of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies. EPR puts the responsibility onto whoever places a product into the market — for example the brand owner or retailer — to ensure that it is appropriately processed at the end of its life through recycling.


Typically, they do this by paying an EPR scheme a fee based on the weight and composition of the waste material to take care of the end-of-life management on their behalf. EPR schemes then distribute this money to carry out effective waste management. EPR policies also typically establish targets for the total proportion of waste placed on the market that has to be sorted and recycled, creating an incentive to improve design for recycling.

EPR policies cover a variety of areas, including electronics, automotive, textiles, batteries, and more, but much of the current conversation is focussed on lightweight consumer packaging — an important topic for our industry as nearly 40% of the plastic currently produced in the EU is for packaging applications [3].

From 2024, the introduction of EPR schemes for packaging is likely to become mandatory across the European Union.

Delivering on the European Green Deal

Germany offers an example of how EPR policies can work to positively impact the waste management landscape: in the 32 years since EPR schemes were first introduced, the country has experimented with multiple models in order to maximise efficiency and eliminate freeriding. It has also implemented progressively higher targets for material recovery, leading to a plastic packaging recycling rate of 46% in 2020 — significantly higher than the EU average of 38%, and within reach of the EU’s proposed target of 50% by 2025 [4][5].

From 2024, the introduction of EPR schemes for packaging is likely to become mandatory across the European Union [6]. The requirement, part of the European Green Deal, is part of a package of measures that will also set targets for the amount of recycled content that new packaging will have to contain.


A systems-level approach to unlocking progress

EPR also offers another, potentially more powerful, means of effecting change: by fostering collaboration within the value chain, it can reshape entire systems, creating more efficient and effective ways to manage and recover value from waste.

This is the purpose of Recelerate, a joint entity founded by Borealis and Reclay Group. Uniting the recycling expertise of the former with the EPR experience of the latter, Recelerate will work with organisations from across the value chain, including converters, brand owners and retailers, to optimise how lightweight plastic packaging is managed, sorted and recycled.

The sorted waste will become feedstock for Borealis’ Borcycle™ M and C recycling activities. These recycled materials will then be converted back into lightweight packaging, once again becoming part of an EPR scheme — the full circular lifecycle in action.

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