The “EPSolutely!” event brings EPS packaging to the centre of circularity

EUMEPS and Smart Packaging Europe organised the event “EPSolutely! Innovation, recycling and the EPS industry’s progress towards circularity” at the Press Club Brussels on 15th June 2022.

We welcomed high-level speakers from the European institutions, the EPS and plastics industry, research institutes, and more than 60 people attended in person and online. Postponed due to COVID, our event provided an opportunity for EUMEPS to formally present Smart Packaging Europe as an alliance of big and small companies that reflects the diversity of the European EPS packaging value chain, including EPS packaging users.

EUMEPS Managing Director Jürgen Lang, started the discussions, outlining the versatility, reliability and sustainability of EPS in the construction and packaging sectors. He stressed that the EPS industry has a key role to play in helping the EU to achieve the green transition, including the EU’s ambitious climate targets.

Klaus Ries, Chair of the EUMEPS Board, called on the participants to join forces and help to find the best regulations and norms, which allow for the best use of EPS. “Nowadays, fortunately, when we talk about products, we also talk about their end of life and recyclability, which was unthinkable just a few years ago”, he observed.

Christoph Lindner, Managing Partner of Coversio, presented the “The EPS industry’s journey towards circularity – Progress report” that Conversio had critically reviewed and ‘approved’. It presents the most recent recycling figures for EPS available in Europe. It shows a steady yearly increase in EPS recycling rates across the Member States of almost 4% over the last years. The main driver for EPS recycling has been packaging. Our data shows an European average recycling rate for EPS post-consumer packaging of 38% in 2019. We have observed a recycling rate of above 76% in countries such as Norway, which is also reported by the Norwegian PRO. Furthermore, the recycling rate for EPS post-consumer packaging already exceeds 50% in five EU-countries, namely in Portugal, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Ireland and Belgium. Specifically for EPS fish boxes, we have found recycling rates of above 70% in at least eight European countries, including Portugal and Norway, where the recycling rates are at 90%.

We had pleasure to host Laure Baillargeon, Policy Officer, Green and Circular Economy Unit, DG GROW, European Commission as keynote speaker. She emphasised the importance of cooperation concerning plastics. At the moment, the Commission’s work is focused on two main issues. The first of these is strategic autonomy, linked to the need to be less dependent on gas imports. The second issue is climate change and the green transition. The Commission has set ambitious targets to be achieved by 2025 and 2030. To reach these targets, a steep acceleration of current (real) efforts for packaging will be necessary. A noteworthy initiative is the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA), an alliance of more than 310 stakeholder organisations (of which EUMEPS is a founding member). The CPA shares the recycling ambition of the EU, but a systematic change along the entire value chain is necessary. There is a need to invest in new capacities and technologies. Now the next step will be the interaction with the national authorities in charge of waste management.

Importantly, the event provided an opportunity for EUMEPS to formally present Smart Packaging Europe. Sven Heppes, Spokesperson for Smart Packaging Europe (SPE), gave an overview of SPE’s work to date and future plans. Currently, there is increased general political attention on packaging, including from civil society. He highlighted the versatility of EPS as a packaging material, giving examples of varied uses including for COVID-19 vaccine packaging. He presented the example of an EPS packaging user joining SPE. Attracting the end-users of EPS packaging and developing new solutions together will continue to be one of the main goals of Smart Packaging Europe.

Dr. Karl Ott, Head of Intralogistics and Materials Management at the Fraunhofer Institut in Austria, introduced EPSolutely, an Austrian research project started in January 2022. A Consortium brings together representatives from the entire value chain with the objective of developing new technology solutions, defining new cases, preferred scenarios and implementing pilots. The aim of this project is to completely close the cycle through recycling to PS regranulate. In the coming months, it will be crucial to develop a suitable technology for each process and to build up efficient and sustainable logistics. Another major aspect not to be underestimated is the social one, related to the recyclability of EPS. A change of mindset is necessary to raise awareness for separate EPS collection.

MEP Cyrus Engerer (Socialists & Democrats, Malta) gave an insight into the major legislative initiatives currently under consideration in the European Parliament. One of these is the proposal for a new EU regulation on waste shipments. “It is vital to talk not about waste, but rather about resources”, he said, adding that it is essential to keep these resources on our continent. Ways and means have to be found so that packaging can be collected and reused or recycled, including packaging that is smarter and more recyclable.

The panel discussion addressed another important upcoming legislative file, the new Packaging Waste Regulation. The Commission has been reviewing the requirements on packaging and packaging waste in the EU. This will include assessing how to improve packaging design to promote reuse and recycling, increase recycled content in packaging, tackle excessive packaging, and reduce packaging waste. Jürgen Lang and other participants linked this back to the issue of waste shipments, which need to be facilitated for the purpose of recycling within the EU.

If you would like to watch the event, you can see a full recording here, also you see a summary video of our event on Social Media channels Twitter and LinkedIn.