On November 16, 2016 the International Packaging Institute (IPI) held a meeting on the circular economy and its implications for the packaging industry. A small group of experts discussed different issues concerning the recycling goals for packaging as they are currently defined by the European Commission in the Circular Economy Package.
Benjamin Kauertz, Senior Scientist at the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Heidelberg, Germany compared current and projected EU recycling rates for different packaging materials. Kauertz exemplified that increasing the recycling rates of different packaging materials will have varying effects on the generated CO2 equivalents and the cumulated energy demand (CED): Savings can be expected when PET bottles are recycled and re-used to produce new bottles, as well as for the recycling of aluminum cans. However, recycling of beverage cartons could lead to increased CO2 equivalents and CED, according to the model. Based on these results, Kauertz concluded that different materials should not be treated in the same way, i.e. recycling may not be the most-environmentally friendly option for all materials. He recommended to focus further research also on the use of recycled material to improve the protection of resources and the environment.
Leif Steuernagel, Senior Scientist at the Technical University Clausthal, Germany illustrated technical challenges of plastic recycling. He identified the prevention of contamination, efficient separation and quality analysis standards as necessities for efficient plastic recycling processes.
Jean Paul Duquet, Director Sustainability at Flexible Packaging Europe and Dana Mosora, Sustainability and Advocacy Director at Dow Europe both demanded efficient waste collection systems providing sufficient material to initiate technical recycling processes.
The prevention of food waste by suitable packaging was another topic discussed in-depth during the meeting. Examples showed that especially the eco-balances of food types requiring a lot of resources during their production (e.g. meat, dairy products) may be improved by the use of packaging that extends the shelf-life and thus reduces food waste. It was suggested that packaging should not be evaluated on its own, but as a part of the whole product.
IPI (November 16, 2016). «Circular Economy und deren Auswirkungen auf die Verpackungsindustrie.» (pdf, in German)