Euractiv Recycling Debate: “Accountability Is Essential”

The challenges and opportunities of recycling were the subject of a recent Euractiv debate on the European Commission’s Plastics Strategy.  EUROPEN Chairman and Coca-Cola European Partners Vice President Hans van Bochove took the opportunity to explain how Coca-Cola’s commitments are contributing to reaching its ambitious goals in recycling and packaging design.


Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella opened the event by recognizing the unprecedented response to the strategy and calling for further voluntary commitments from industry to boost the uptake of recycled plastics: “The more pledges we get, the higher the level of ambition, the greater the chance of creating positive feedback loops.”


The Commission wants plastic waste to be seen as a valuable secondary raw material and make all plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030. However, as Vella explained, “We can't wish the new plastics economy into being. We have to create the conditions to make it happen. We understand the need to improve the economics and the quality of plastic recycling.”


Even though plastic packaging, as Hans van Bochove underlined, is not just about plastic bottles, it is the area that Coca-Cola is determined to contribute to. Ulrike Sapiro, Sustainability Director for EMEA explains in this video how the new Coca-Cola strategy sets global goals for 2030 in packaging design and collection and means rewiring the way the company sees its value chains, placing value in packaging in order to recover it, and thereby bringing an end to the concept of ‘single-use’ plastics.


A Western Europe sustainability action plan, called This Is Forward, jointly developed by The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola European Partners sets even more ambitious targets.  By 2025 the companies aim to ensure 100% of packaging will be recyclable, 50% of materials in PET bottles will come from recycled plastics, and the equivalent of 100% of our packaging will be collected by working with local and national partners.


Responding to a question on whether plans for using renewable materials could be derailed by a cheaper price for virgin than recycled PET, van Bochove insisted that is precisely why the company’s sustainability commitment is so important, saying “We expect to be held accountable.” He went on to describe how doubling the proportion of recycled PET from today’s 25% in just seven years is a massive undertaking. Echoing Plastics Europe Public Affairs Director Leonor Garcia, he pointed out that beyond designing for easier collection and sorting, it involves working with partners to identify and remove bottle-necks so as to maintain a reliable supply of recycled material. As FEAD Vice-President Cesare Spreafico put it, “identifying long-term flows of recyclates is essential.”


The discussion highlighted the importance in not overlooking the differences between countries and the nature and the availability of recycling infrastructure. While being open to explore the feasibility of deposit systems, van Bochove warned there may be instances when these could conflict with established extended producer responsibility schemes in some member states. However, he went on, “We are committed to collecting the equivalent of what we put in the market. And in focusing on 100% recovery, we are open to any system that will get us there.”


DG Environment’s Hugo-Maria Schally, Head of Unit for Sustainable Production, Products and Consumption, closed the event welcoming greater stakeholder involvement and consumer empowerment while noting the potential employment gains from increased use of recycled material in the EU.