These are difficult times for the world economy owing to COVID-19. Single-use plastics have been crucial in protecting ourselves from the virus, making clear the need for such material and for its many positive attributes. These include: low cost; lightweight; strong; easy to colour and form; suitable for mass production; generally non-toxic; and excellent electrical properties/chemical resistance.
Despite these positives, however, most of the attention is on the fact that the plastic waste generated will not be recycled, leading to a widely negative image. The situation is complex in Spain where a draft bill covering waste and contaminated land proposes a tax on the production of single-use plastic amounting to approximately 50% of the raw material cost, which would make it virtually impossible to sustain an industry that has been, and remains, essential in protecting against the virus and that has reacted in record time to produce individual protective equipment.
At the same time, we must act to make plastic products recyclable and reusable, putting into practice such initiatives as:
• Increasing the number of incineration plants
Since China and other countries have closed their borders to plastic waste imports, countries like Spain (which used to export 60% of its waste to China) are now struggling to manage the extra volumes of waste for which insufficient capacity exists to deal with it.
• Reducing excessive packaging and thus packaging waste
• Encouraging eco-design focusing on packaging reuse and recyclability
• Minimizing the complexity of materials used in packaging production
• Creating a sustainable market for the recycled plastic, with a stable price that attracts investment
• Rewarding the recycling industry
Spain’s national recycling federation suggests rewarding the recycling industry for delivering energy savings and reducing CO2 emissions when compared to using virgin plastics, while also creating employment at, for example, recycling plants.
• Strict rules to improve selective collection so as to improve the quality of recycled plastics
A further advantage is the possibility of exporting plastics once selective collection has been undertaken.
Several companies in Spain are carrying out magnificent work in this area. For example, milk company Calidad Pascual’s “bottle-to-bottle” concept involves reusing its packaging material to create new bottles. Airbus, meanwhile, is working on the reuse of its production waste within its value chain as a by-product. And textile companies Ternua Group and Ecoalf are creating clothes from plastic waste. These examples show that a circular economy is possible and should continue to be pursued. Instead of punishing the use of plastics, the focus should be on achieving a stable market for recycled plastic, with stable prices that make it possible to create a solid industry based on circular economy principles.
Ferromolins SL (ESP), Board Member of the BIR Plastics Committee