Definitions for recycled plastics must not be set by companies

Peter von Bechen,

Today, ECOS, Zero Waste Europe, and the Rethink Plastic alliance have sent a letter calling on the European Commission to put on hold the development of overarching standards on plastics recyclability until related EU laws are adopted.

Going ahead with this standardisation process now would give companies the opportunity to set the ambition of definitions of recyclability-related terms, potentially weakening effective recyclability rates in Europe for years to come.

The European Commission must suspend the standardisation request process for plastics recycling. The process needs to be put on hold until the revision of the essential requirements for packaging waste is decided by democratically elected policymakers in the European Parliament and the EU Council, NGOs argue in a letter sent today to European Commission officials in DG GROW and DG ENVI.

The letter was triggered by the European Commission’s plan to issue a standardisation request to CEN and CENELEC by September 2021, aiming to set definitions, test and calculation methods for a wide range of terms related to plastics recycling and recycled plastics. The planned standardisation request is currently set to contain a list of definitions put forward by the industry’s Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA) [2]. The subsequent standardisation process would impact a number of crucial sectors such as packaging, buildings and construction, electronics, agriculture and automotive.

However, several similar technical terms are to be established soon in EU legislation, as part of the upcoming revision of essential requirements for packaging waste, and the implementing measures relating to the uptake of recycled content.

If industry-led definitions for recyclability are set in standards before they are defined in laws, future legislative efforts could be effectively halted or even watered down, with an important practical consequence in making recycling targets less reliable [3].

Once technical terms are set in legislation, standards can be a powerful tool in support of that legislation to improve the recyclability of plastic materials even further. For example, they could provide homogeneous packaging specifications, thus boosting recyclate quality and making it easier to effectively introduce old plastics into new products.

Fanny Rateau, Programme Manager at ECOS, said: “If the EU wants to ramp up its recycling rates, the legal foundations must first be set in stone, and this will only be achieved by legally binding definitions of crucial terms such as ‘recyclability’ or ‘recycled content’ . Standards can then take it to the next level and improve the recyclability of plastic materials even further. But not the other way around.”


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