Faces of EUMEPS: Paolo Bottarelli, new Board member and Marketing Manager at Versalis

Last April, Paolo Bottarelli, Marketing Manager at Versalis, was elected as a new member of EUMEPS’ Board of Directors. We sat down with him and talked about his experiences, his motivations, and his expectations in his new role. The discussion was also an occasion to tackle the challenges and opportunities ahead of the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) sector.


Paolo Bottarelli in fron of the Versalis logo, a lion-like shape of blue and green shades
Paolo Bottarelli, new Board member of EUMEPS, and Marketing Manager at Versalis.

Paolo, thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. I would like to congratulate you as you were recently elected to the EUMEPS’ Board of Directors. What was your motivation to run for this office, against the background that the work for EUMEPS adds up to your “normal” job in Versalis?

We at Versalis have been enhancing our activity in sustainable and circular solutions in recent years. As EUMEPS is committed, today more than ever, to the same goal, it was time to give a stronger contribution to the association, putting our business experience at the service of the entire industry.

You are already an active member of the Raw Material Supplier group and of the working groups. How do you think that your participation in these groups and in the Board of Directors will facilitate the work of EUMEPS?

It is right, I participate in several groups and committees within EUMEPS. I believe that by short-circuiting communications at different levels, we can speed up even more our decision-making and governance process and increase the sharing of knowledge in both directions (top-down and bottom-up). We have a strong need to increase our communication and consciousness of the different challenges on the table and creating internal connections between the various workgroups within our association is one way to do so.

In the past years, EUMEPS has changed a lot. What is your main takeaway from the reform process? What has improved already and where do you still see space for improvement?

With the recent reshape we have a stronger presence at the relevant tables outside our association, which includes being more vocal at the European level by having a physical presence in Brussels and following directly the regulation landscape, which is currently changing at a very fast pace. All of this is achieved by having more people on the staff, which allows us a consistent presence where needed and also saves the budget that we previously used for consultancy. But the main goal was to be faster and more effective in decision-making and to better integrate the different “blood groups” that constitute EUMEPS, raw materials producers, converters and national associations. I think this integration can already be seen in the growing number of associated converters, but still, we have room for further integrating the views while saving the diversity that is in the DNA of the EPS industry.

Versalis, Eni’s chemical company, offers a variety of chemical products. EPS is part of these products. What are the prospects for EPS in Versalis?

Versalis has undertaken a challenging journey in sustainability, a Just Transition that will lead us to carbon neutrality in 2050. In this sense, in the EPS business, we have already started an action plan that includes investments in mechanical and chemical recycling technologies, biobased feedstocks, and a focus on sustainable products. Versalis EPS is a relatively small, but really well-integrated team that is able to quickly adapt to our challenges.

So, you are optimistic about the future of EPS. Where do you think lay opportunities for the EPS Industry/sector in these times?

EPS is a cornerstone of the energy efficiency of buildings. Its unrivalled balance of performance and cost efficiency makes it the material of choice for the renovation. We know that the European policy is focusing a lot on renovation. As a matter of fact, it is not even possible, for instance, to achieve the goal set in the proposal of the EPBD Directive without EPS. Article 3 of the current draft requires that the entire stock of existing buildings is decarbonized before 2050. We know that this means raising the current renovation levels by an order of magnitude. This calls for more investments in renovation capacity including EPS throughout the chain.

On the other hand, what are, according to you, the biggest challenges ahead of EPS in packaging and insulation? Can you think of anything that is not currently foreseen by the industry?

Europe has the ambition to be a sustainability leader in all senses. This means that EPS, in order to be a protagonist in the European landscape, needs to offer solutions in energy saving, and also by involving sustainability in a broader sense: for instance, we need to ensure that we use safe and sustainable formulations, that fire safety receives the maximum level of attention, but above all that we ensure a circular end of life for all the products in EPS placed on the market. If we fail to achieve any of these goals, EPS risks being deselected in favour of other materials. For this reason, we are engaged in several different initiatives. Changing an entire industry is not an easy task and we also need to keep projects on track in time, because we are given very short deadlines by our policy makers. We need policymakers and the public opinion to be aware of the effort we are making and supported by policies and needed resources. We also need to upgrade our communication activity.

When it comes to sustainability and circularity, EPS has come a long way but is finally making good progress. What do you see as decisive factors in reaching full circularity?

We are currently in the process of achieving a high recycling rate, and we are in a position to meet all the requirements set in the current legislative framework. For instance, we need to be able to include recycled content in our products placed on the market and at the same time ensure that the end of life of all products is circular including resources optimization.

We also need to avoid differences among various countries and even among regions of the same country throughout Europe in waste management practices and regulations in general. This implies that we need to develop tailor-made schemes for solving the puzzle. In this case, I believe that the nature of the “association of associations” of EUMEPS can be of great help. Our capillary presence allows each national association to develop its own solutions, while at a European level, we need to integrate and standardize the strategy in order to harmonize the approach and allow best practices to be spread.

What is the role of chemical recycling in reaching the full circularity of EPS? Do you think it would be possible to reach full circularity without chemical recycling? What is Versalis doing in this regard, and can you tell us about the progress your company is making?

Mechanical recycling has proven to be an effective way to make the value chain of most EPS applications circular. Still, there are, and there will be, fractions of EPS that are difficult to recover mechanically, either because of their quality or because of the difficulty of selecting them from mixed plastic waste fractions. Chemical recycling (which, it is useful to remember, does not refer to a single process but to an array of different technologies) is able to provide a solution for these cases. Versalis is currently in the process of building the first demo-scale plant based on our proprietary technology, named Hoop® in Mantova, Italy, where we also have our EPS R&D and Technology. It is a pyrolysis technology that will be able to treat mixed plastic waste.

Let’s talk a little bit more about our environmental performance. Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) is of crucial importance to minimize the emissions of microplastics. What can the EPS industry still do to improve its record?

At EUMEPS we strongly believe that a modern industry cannot accept unintentional emissions of microplastics in the environment. Versalis has voluntarily joined the Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) program since 2015. This program, promoted in Europe by Plastics Europe, is aimed at combating the phenomenon of marine littering, which concerns the dispersion of plastic in the marine environment. Over the years the programme has collected an increasing number of adhesions both among members of the Plastics Europe industry association and among actors throughout the supply chain and has recently evolved into an “OCS Europe” scheme verifiable by accredited certification bodies. By endorsing the OCS Programme, our industry is pushing really hard towards the ‘zero pellet loss’ objective.

Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS) is an international programme designed to prevent the loss of plastic granules during handling by the various entities in the plastics value chain and their release into the environment.
Picture source: Unsplash. Credit: Sören Funk.

RecoTrace is a database tool used to collect recycling data from the plastics Industry to measure the progress towards the goals set in the Circular Plastic Alliance Framework. The European Commission will use the collected data to determine if a material is recycled at scale and in practice but unfortunately, as we know, RecoTrace does not apply to Raw Material Supplier members – but soon it will be. What does a tool such as this one bring to the table? Why is it so important for the EPS industry to use it?

As we are confident of being one of the best-performing materials in the plastics landscape in terms of recycling rate, we also need this to be certified by a neutral and authorable source. Of course, RecoTrace is not perfect yet, but still, it is the best opportunity that we have on the table to have our effort recognized. This will only work, of course, if the entire industry is engaged in this reporting tool, and we strongly encourage all the players in the industry to use RecoTrace.

Paolo, what are your resolutions regarding your term as a member of EUMEPS’s Board of Directors? Is there anything that you want to achieve?

I am really excited and enthusiastic about being able to give my personal effort and contribution to the leadership of EUMEPS. I hope to have some fresh energy to provide, combined with my experience growing having spent an important part of my work life in this industry.