06. Apr 2022
An extensive new independent report – “ReShaping Plastics: Pathways to a Circular, Climate Neutral Plastics System in Europe” – calls for faster systemic change towards circularity and net zero carbon emissions.
Commissioned by Plastics Europe (Brussels, Belgium), this extensive independent report developed by SYSTEMIQ (London, UK) aimed to critically evaluate current progress and assess the potential of different levers to help transition towards the EU’s net zero carbon emissions and circularity goals by 2050.
ReShaping Plastics provides a science-based, practical roadmap based on a similar approach and scientific methodology developed for the ground-breaking report Breaking the Plastic Wave. It explores a series of scenarios based on current publicly available market data on innovations, commitments and policies that are underway and in the pipeline. It also makes projections about how these different elements, including emerging technologies, may play out over a long time-period.
According to the report, the European plastics system faces the dual, deeply intertwined environmental challenge of cutting GHG emissions and reducing waste disposal. The solutions require vast coordination, increased resources, transformative innovation, and close collaboration among governments and industry, as well as the ongoing engagement and vigilance of consumers and communities.
Consumer are seen as a catalyst, in this context, accelerating this change, as they have a fairly limited set of truly circular choices themselves. However, there are already strong signs of strong consumer demand for products with less packaging, more recycled content, and sustainably branded products – they drive stakeholder groups to take up the responsibility to bring the demanded change.
According to the report, it is not a lack of technical solutions that is preventing the transformation of the currently linear, inefficient plastics system, but rather inadequate regulatory frameworks, business models, and funding mechanisms. Although solutions exist, the incentives and capacity are not always in place to scale them up fast enough.
To help get this process started, the report identifies priority areas for policymakers, industry leaders, and civil society to focus on to make the biggest possible impact.
The scenarios contained in the report aim to illuminate potential pathways leading to a resource efficient, low-carbon emitting plastics system in Europe, and highlight that continued innovation, investment and flexibility will be required to adapt successfully to the changing economic, political, social, and environmental landscape. While the time series of this model runs for three decades, the pathways described will only be possible if significant changes are made well before the end of the 2020s.
The report further identifies five essential findings:
- The European plastics system is already adapting to address the challenges of climate change mitigation and circularity, but not yet fast enough to align with the goals of the Circular Plastics Alliance, European Green Deal, or the Paris and Glasgow climate agreements.
- There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to significantly reduce waste disposal and GHG emissions. Upstream and downstream solutions are complementary and are most effective when deployed together.
- Ambitious adoption of circular economy approaches in the plastics value chain – i.e. applying upstream and downstream solutions together – can drive significant reductions in GHG emissions and waste disposal in the next decade and beyond.
- In addition to these proven circular economy approaches, there are multiple less mature pathways to develop and deploy innovative technologies and approaches that further decrease GHG emissions and tend to decouple plastic from fossil fuel feedstocks.
- The next three to five years are a critical window for action. Long technology maturity cycles and CAPEX lock-in for large infrastructure investments mean that the decisions taken in the early 2020s will determine whether or not the European plastics system will achieve a circular economy and net zero GHG emissions by 2050.
“The plastics industry has an important role to play in cutting emissions, reducing waste, and increasing circularity. It is time to replace fossil feedstocks with circular raw materials with a significantly lower carbon footprint. The new report shows a range of options and scenarios to get there, which we will carefully examine. Of course, we do not yet have all the answers to the challenges we face. That’s why we support the report’s calls for more intense and effective collaboration with our value chain and policymakers”, says Markus Steilemann – President of Plastics Europe. AT