27 recycled bottles to make a T-shirt

The advantages of sorting and recycling plastics must become tangible for European citizens, says the EESC 

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) believes that a successful plastics strategy must aim at effective educational and training measures, because respect of the dynamic balance of the biosphere do not appear out of nowhere.  Furthermore, it is necessary to create design and behavioural incentives as well as common technical and regulatory standards to make plastics more recyclable and accelerate the transition to a circular economy. 

In its opinion on the Commission’s Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy the Committee emphasises plastics recycling as a vital opportunity for sustainable and competitive economic development. Objects made out of plastics must be seen as a valuable raw material which needs to be recovered rather than disposed of.

From regulations to a culture of avoiding and recycling plastics

While the EESC welcomes the Commission's new EU rules to reduce marine litter, the EESC wishes to go even further: The devastation of our seas and landscapes with plastics must give way to a culture of avoidance, collecting and recycling of plastics. We need a European culture of plastic circularity based on an analysis of the entire product lifecycle, says Antonello Pezzini, rapporteur of the opinion, and this will only work with the involvement of citizens and civil society.

The EESC is convinced that education will be key and proposes commitments to awareness-raising on the sorting of waste – including plastics – at national level which needs to start at school. Furthermore, current standards on waste should be adapted as regards the requirements of plastics collection.

In view of the declining oil reserves – the main resource for producing plastics – we can no longer afford to simply dump or incinerate plastic, therefore recycling must become more and more prevalent, emphasises Mr Pezzini. This, however, requires a system of incentives for consumers and easy identification by means of digital readers at collection points.

Eco-design for plastics

The Committee believes that a culture of polymer eco-design in the circular economy – similar to the one developed for energy savings – will promote the subsequent use of secondary polymers.

In this regard, the EESC considers it a priority to label the various types of plastics for the purposes of identification, selection and possibly exclusion of dangerous substances. When recycling plastic, it is imperative to guarantee and certify that secondary raw materials do not contain toxic substances, explains Mr Pezzini.

Micro-plastic – often used in detergents, cosmetics, furniture and paints – needs special attention, since pollution from this source is one of the biggest dangers for the environment and human health. The EESC wants the fight against micro-plastic pollution to be tackled at EU level as part of the REACH legislation in order for it to be tackled at the source.

People must feel the positive impact on their lives. They need to see the economic and ecological advantages of their effort to collect and sort plastics, says Mr Pezzini, outlining the positive impact of sorting PET bottles in his opinion.

From PET to yarn

The EESC encourages the separate collection and, in particular, recycling of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which can create economic benefits in the EU, generating new economic activity and jobs.

PET recycling involves a non-polluting, innovative chemical/mechanical process, which conserves the purity of the fibre, reducing energy and water consumption, and reducing CO2 emissions by about 30%, all without producing slag or waste. The transformation of PET into fabric is innovative and environmentally friendly, and ensures quality from production techniques through to design. And the numbers are impressive: it takes only around 27 1.5 litre bottles – approximately the recommended consumption of water of a four-person household per week – to make a fleece sweatshirt.

The EESC opinion also contains the Committee's proposals on tackling marine litter at port reception facilities and offers useful background information on plastics. 

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