Steven Pacitti from Plastics in Packaging magazine talks to AMB’s Sustainability Manager Swan Cecatto about the outlook for plastics packaging
SP: How challenging are the EU’s plastics packaging recycling targets of 50 per cent by 2025 and 55 per cent by 2030?
SC: Most countries are largely still below the target. The new EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive measures recycling at the input level to recyclers instead of the previous directive, where the recycling had been measured at a post-sorting stage.
This would be an incentive to recycle, but the real action became effective in January 2021 with the European plastics tax, which each Member State will have to pay for non-recyclable packaging material. This is a ‘purpose tax’, with the aim of supporting the general EU budget and promoting recycling.
But there are still open questions regarding the tax and its implementation mechanism. What happens is that each country devises its own mechanism to recover the cost of the plastics tax with a fragmentation of the EU market.
Italy is one of the countries that have decided to implement a national plastics tax. It will come into force at the beginning of 2022, if not further postponed.
SP: What key trends and developments do you see in the plastics recycling market?
SC: We have started to implement new solutions for our customers to reduce the future plastics tax impacts, adapting our governance and processes. Examples include packaging material reduction with intelligent downgauging to reduce plastics weight and product carbon emissions, and the use of recycled content, which is exempt from the tax.
Despite the increase in rPET
prices during the last year, we have been able to guarantee the increased demand from our customers, and have invested in the production of super clean material suitable for direct food contact.
Mono-material solutions designed for recycling are another area of focus, but the challenge comes with those applications that require high barrier properties. AMB has addressed these limits with a high-barrier PET mono-material solution.
SP: How important will the combination of mechanical and chemical recycling solutions be in the future?
SC: The combination of both mechanical and chemical recycling could be the game-changer to reach the EU recycling targets laid down in the EU Plastics Strategy and the new Circular Economy Action Plan.
There are many aspects to deal with from a regulatory prospective. These include the development of collection and sorting infrastructures, a mass balance approach to account for the
recycled content, and a lifecycle analysis approach to evaluate the environmental impact.
Eco design is the pillar of our R&D processes with more than 70 per cent of our 2020 R&D projects
related to sustainability.
SP: How do we develop the value chain for the recycling of plastics packaging?
SC: We work with Petcore to design for recycling of PET thermoforms trays in Europe, and we are voluntarily committed to PET Sheet Europe (a sector group of European Plastics Converters) and the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA). In the CPA product design team, we are committed to develop, update or revise design for-recycling guidelines for PET tray products and ensure they are
revised on a regular basis to take into account innovation.
SP: What’s the future of plastics packaging?
SC: When we talk about food packaging we are talking first of all about food safety and consumer protection and this will remain a point that will never be questioned globally. What can be discussed will be the superfluous, abuse and the ‘unsafe’.
Plastics packaging was conceived as an instrument of protection and not of disruption. We need to think about why plastics
were born and rediscover their original value.
Our customers and end-consumers don’t need more information – they need better and transparent information that will help them achieve more responsible packaging.