Circular Economy Plastic-Free Europe: Rethinking Plastics Use, Recycling and Product Design

Editor: Gabriele Ilg

A blizzard of ideas and viewpoints regarding the future of plastic manufacturing, use and recycling were discussed at Achema’s “Plastic-Free Europe?” panel discussion, all involving a network of stakeholders and a broad range of possible actions.

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Panelist Hugo-Maria Schally of the EC and panel moderator 
Kathrin Ruebberdt of Dechema
Panelist Hugo-Maria Schally of the EC and panel moderator 
Kathrin Ruebberdt of Dechema

The provocative title of the session underlined the magnitude and complexity of the issues touched by plastics, including consumer behavior, product-packaging design, recycling logistics and many others. Panelist Ingo Sartorius, of Plastics Europe Deutschland, a trade association of European plastics makers, stressed the importance of plastics in maintaining resource efficiency, including its role in preventing food waste through packaging and heat loss through insulation, for example, but he acknowledged that solutions are needed to make plastics use more sustainable.

Martin Möller, of the Öko Institute for Applied Ecology in Freiburg, Germany, summarized the consensus by saying that while plastics are essential to the economy, a great deal about the way they are designed and used needs to change. Many possible changes were discussed in panelist discussion, as well as during a subsequent question-and-answer period. In many cases, those changes may need to be brought about by the introduction of government regulations, including those mentioned by Hugo-Maria Schally, from the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

Schally brought up several ongoing initiatives by the commission, including a strategy for plastic waste released earlier this year, to promote the concept of a circular economy and make recyclability more profitable for businesses. At the panel, he also emphasized the need to rethink how plastics are designed, even down to the level of the chemistries employed to synthesize them, as well as the lifestyle choices behind how they are used and the mechanisms by which they are recycled.

The role of humans and the importance of consumer behavior was a focus of comments from Markus Dambeck, from RIGK in Wiesbaden, Germany, a waste-management company involved with plastics recycling. Consumers need to re-evaluate individual habits to make the large-scale changes that are needed.

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