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WORKSHOP #8: EREK held its eighth workshop in Katowice - Making recycling of packaging waste a profitable business for SMEs

Posted on: 03.04.2019
by The Erek Team

EREK’s eighth workshop titled ‘Making recycling of packaging waste a profitable business for SMEs’ took place on 26 March 2019 in Katowice, Poland. Designated as an EU Industry Days event, it was hosted by the Institute for Ecology of Industrial Areas in cooperation with the Waste Management and Recycling Cluster – Polish National Key Cluster.

The objectives of the workshop were twofold: on the one hand, it aimed at presenting the key issues SMEs involved in packaging waste management faced when they try to become more resource efficient. On the other hand, it looked at the system of waste management as a whole, taking into account economic feasibility, technical viability, market drivers and the current and upcoming EU and Polish regulatory framework. 54 participants attended the workshop and it was mainly composed of companies dealing with collection, sorting and processing of packaging waste, technology providers and branch organisations.

Maja Desgrées du Loû, from DG Environment – European Commission, presented the background for the discussions. She started her presentation by stating that Europe is poor when it comes to resources. In order to improve the situation, the target for 2030 is to manage to recycle 70% of the packaging waste. She said that even if implementation of circular economy helped in achieving higher amounts of recycling for various waste streams over the last four years, improvements are still needed within policy and regulatory framework. The upcoming regulations include the obligation to set up extended producer responsibility schemes by 2024 for all packaging and the alignment of the existing ones with these new requirements by the end of 2022. These schemes should include modulated fees for producers. The objective is to have them take into account circular packaging design criteria based on the performance of the packaging life cycle.

The main packaging requirements are also currently being revised in line with circular economy principles. The new EU Directive on Single-use Plastics (proposed on May 2018) established that bans will need to be put in place within two years for certain single use plastic items. The directive also provides other, less disruptive measures to reduce the consumption and waste of single-use plastics and fishing gear. Maja Desgrées du Loû highlighted the role of consumers, waste operators and public authorities in ensuring proper separate collection and high-quality recycling. She also stressed the key role of the business sector in making packaging more circular.

The workshop highlighted that the market’s evolution for materials from recycled packaging waste seems to be mainly driven by real economic mechanisms supported by legal regulations. The Polish companies involved in the collection and treatment of packaging waste encounter some regulatory burdens such as the obligation of combining waste management plans with local spatial planning, environmental permits for activities related to waste management, as well as financial responsibility of entities for causing damage to the environment. Nevertheless, Poland offers a favorable economic environment for the development of small and medium recycling installations. 

The market for recycled materials is also increasingly offering opportunities. For instance, the demand for products such as plastic granulates, or flakes continues to grow. This is especially due to the advancement of technologies that enable the delivery of standardized and high-quality products.

All the participants agreed that the responsibility of entities that bring packaging to market must be much greater if packaging waste is to be a profitable activity. The responsibility starts with the design of the packaging. The retailers and consumers should have a stronger say on that matter. In Poland, the current Extended Producer Responsibility scheme is definitely insufficient to cover the real costs of packaging waste collection and treatment. Indeed, the recycling fees must be much higher, as they are now amongst the lowest in Europe. This is directly reflected in the recovery and recycling of packaging waste.

Similarly, the current results of investments in mechanical and biological treatment facilities are far from satisfactory compared to those obtained in terms of material recovery. This indicates that in order to achieve the recovery and recycling rates of packaging waste, we need a more efficient organisation of the selective collection of waste, including packaging waste. These improvements will require significant spendings which should be ensured by a properly functioning Extended Producer Responsibility scheme.

Paolo Canfora, from the Joint Research Centre said that Polish SMEs and local/regional authorities could benefit from improved solid waste management. He also presented a number of best practices from the Green Best Practice Community for Municipal Waste Management platform. These included specific technologies, measures and actions whose technical feasibility and economic viability have been demonstrated. Similarly, EREK’s self- assessment tool (SAT) not only allows the SMEs to assess their resource efficiency performance, but it is also linked with the EREK database. The database has more than 470 fiches with good practices, technologies and measures from real European companies that can help other companies to improve their performance. Both tools were presented to the participants. In addition, the workshop provided an opportunity for individual coaching sessions to participants interested in trying the SAT.

Finally, new technological solutions for packaging waste recycling were presented. Polish SME Eco-Tech system, for instance, presented the Motivational Waste Economy System, which uses ICT for optimizing collection methods. It aims at increasing the amount of clean and segregated packaging waste to be directly delivered to the recycling industry. The system also provides residents with an innovative, motivational and ecological way of segregating waste "at source", changing behaviors and habits. TOMRA Sorting shared their expertise in solutions that improve waste sorting efficiency, presenting new technologies of sorting PET bottles from PET trays. K&K Recycling presenting both the production of machines and the efficient lines for recycling of plastics.

The participants also had an opportunity to discuss the issues and challenges of plastics recycling with the recyclers themselves.