In the European Union, plastic is one of the most commonly used food contact materials. These can be either all plastic or a layer of plastic on top of another material such as metal or paper. Packaging that helps prevent spoilage and food waste. At the same time, they are also part of a global challenge such as plastic pollution or the scarcity of natural resources, which are omnipresent in the social, political and media spotlight.
The European Union has already taken several regulatory measures to counteract the negative effects of these challenges, e.g. the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD). Extended producer responsibility (EPR) and high-quality recycling of used packaging material will be at the heart of all regulatory measures to ensure a modern and global circular economy.
To enforce these key points, German regulators need to introduce a model of eco-fee modulation, believes Barbara Hettche of RecycleMe - a company that specialises in helping businesses around the world use and be a valuable part of the circular economy. She suggests that manufacturers and distributors should be incentivised by reduced fees for products or packaging designed for the circular economy. After all, the real incentive effect of EPR and PPWD relates to financial benefits. Circular thinking is thus rewarded.
Nevertheless, it will be another challenge for any company to understand the various regulatory requirements and optimise every process and step along the value chain.
When it comes to the recyclability of food packaging, there is still a winding road ahead: recycled plastic may only be used in food contact materials under certain conditions, as the safety of food contact materials needs to be assessed as chemicals from the materials can transfer into food.
But recycling can also be a pillar of a circular economy in other respects as a basic material for renewable carbon. Because recycling is one of the three sources of renewable carbon. The concept involves a different notion of a circular economy, as it focuses exclusively on the sustainable supply of carbon needed to produce chemicals and materials.
In the context of the circular economy, the aspect of recycling as a carbon source is probably the most interesting. Because this would make it possible to keep all plastics in the cycle, which means that old plastics become new raw materials.
In summary, there are many different approaches to recycling and renewable materials to achieve circular economy, and it is very likely that a combination of these approaches will help us achieve the overall goal. So either way, it is in the "R".