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  • Writer's pictureLucrèce Foufopoulos-DeRidder

The Plastics Transition: driving a circular and net-zero future for the European plastics industry

Plastics Europe¹ has launched ‘The Plastics Transition’, an industry roadmap establishing an ambitious but realistic pathway for plastics to be net-zero and circular.


The Plastics Transition roadmap represents a coming together of the entire European value chain – a vast network of manufacturers, converters, waste management companies and machinery manufacturers – to address the serious societal concerns about the contribution of our industry to climate change, as well as the challenge of plastics waste and the need to ensure the safe use of plastics. In 2021, the value chain employed over 1.5 million people across 52,000 companies in Europe, and generated a turnover of more than 400 billion euro². Transforming an industry of this size and complexity is far from simple, yet that’s precisely what Plastics Europe’s members have committed to doing.


Securing a place for plastics at the heart of a thriving, sustainable European economy

Plastics are a strategic asset to the European economy, with applications in almost every sector, many of which have no viable alternatives. Plastics also enable decarbonization for a number of industries, for example light-weighting cars to improve fuel efficiency and insulating cables that carry renewable energy. It is therefore vital that we take action to secure the long-term competitiveness of the European plastics industry, whilst also leading the world in transitioning from a linear to a circular plastics system. Progress has already been made, but there is no doubt that we need to move further and faster to meet the EU’s Green Deal targets.

The roadmap focuses on three clear goals — material circularity, net-zero emissions, and the sustainable use of plastics — and engages all up- and down-stream levers in pursuit of them. This includes promoting design for reuse and recycling as well as increasing our use of circular materials. Scaling-up mechanical and chemical recycling, plastics from biomass and plastics from carbon capture and utilization (CCU), the substitution of fossil-based plastics could reach 25% in 2030 and 65% by 2050 in an ambitious scenario.

In addition to driving circularity, these measures will also reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Combined with additional energy efficiency measures, the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels, electrifying production processes, and utilizing carbon capture & storage, these efforts will reduce GHG emissions from the overall plastics system by more than 25% by 2030 and drive life cycle emissions to net-zero by 2050.

As an industry, we are also working continuously to ensure the safety of plastics and prevent any potential impact on human health. We recognize that any plastic waste in the environment is unacceptable, and the roadmap therefore includes measures to continue to prevent pellet loss, as well as working closely with scientists to better understand microplastics and ensure the safety of chemical additives applied to different polymers.


Significant investments have already been made to develop and scale recycling technologies

For example at Borealis, our Bornewables™ and Borcycle™ portfolios offer circular feedstock based on biomass, chemical and mechanical recycling on a commercial scale. Other promising technologies are currently in the research and development stage. Some will still scale-up in the next few years, while others are only expected to commercialize in the next decade. For instance, Swiss company On, in partnership with a number of value chain members including Borealis, has already used CCU to make proof-of-concept running shoe soles.

Considering the typical long investment and qualification cycles of our industry, the next few years are a critical window for action. The time to eliminate serious barriers and remove bottlenecks is now.

Recycling rate in Europe since 2018: The Plastics Transition roadmap focuses on three clear goals — material circularity, net-zero emissions, and the sustainable use of plastics. Source: Plastics Europe


Full backing of a supportive legislative framework essential

A supportive legislative framework is desperately needed to provide our industry with the confidence, certainty and incentives required to enable a transformation of this magnitude. The European plastics industry cannot drive this transition if it is not globally competitive, and to be competitive we need policy that creates enough high-quality, sustainably sourced feedstock, supports a massive upscaling of collection, sorting and recycling, including both chemical and mechanical recycling, and provides access to a diverse mix of abundant and affordable renewable energy.


The time for action is now. This transition to a circular and net zero plastics system will be an enormous technical, political, and commercial challenge, but also a significant opportunity for Europe.

The time for action is now. This transition to a circular and net-zero plastics system will be an enormous technical, political, and commercial challenge, but also a significant opportunity for Europe. Through delivering bold, systematic change and investing in technological advancement, we can secure a future where European plastics are intrinsically woven into the fabric of a sustainable and circular global economy.



¹ Plastics Europe is a leading European trade association representing more than 100 member companies active in the plastics industry ecosystem.

² Source: Plastics Europe


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