Imagine you are in charge of packaging in the European Union. You are introducing new laws to reduce waste and pollution. So far, so good. But then it is revealed that a change to mandate the re-use of packaging could lead to a flood of plastic. This is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve. Do you vote?
The answer is obvious. But this is the real problem facing the EU, as it debates changes to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR).
Everyone supports what the EU wants to achieve with this law. But recent changes are counterproductive. They will establish legal regulations for the reuse of cargo in many ways. Instead, the decision would have penalized recycled products, such as cardboard, and boosted the plastic industry.
An analysis from the trade association FEFCO has found that, instead of being drastically cut, the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging being produced will double by 2040.1. It is not possible to recycle plastic without making it toxic. But that doesn’t mean we should give up and accept that creating more mountains for reuse is a better alternative.
Our entire business at Smurfit Kappa is built around reducing the environmental impact of CDs on the planet and improving the supply chain for billions of people. We use our expertise in innovation to produce sustainable CDs, especially as a replacement for plastic. These are renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. We recycle the threads of our boxes 25 times over their lifetime. In the end, they just go back to nature.
Plastic is always there. It is produced from fossil fuels and only 9 percent of it worldwide is recycled2.This is a bad combination. Even the smallest piece of plastic that ends up being recycled will one day be burned and release CO2, or become trash. It does not return to the ground like cardboard.
On the other hand, paper products are recyclable, recyclable, and biodegradable. Cardboard in particular plays an important role in the EU’s transition to a circular economy.
We have the best cardboard recycling machines, with a recycling rate of over 90 percent, the highest of any in Europe. Coatings on corrugated cardboard are about 89 percent3.
Cardboard should always be kept out of the reach of any product that is to be reused. We have found a voice in this debate as we continue to lead the way in sustainability and play a major role in drastically reducing the use of plastic. We collect used containers and recycle more than 90 percent as part of our closing business. Last year 94.3 percent of our packages were Chain of Custody certified under FSC, PEFC or SFI standards.
Brands like The North Face have set goals to reduce plastic and our company, Smurfit Kappa, has helped them – for example, by removing polybags from online orders instead of traditional paper packaging. The last thing most companies want to do is increase the amount of plastic they are using. Not only do customers care, but every company relies on the natural world for stability and security.
We do not want to reverse this progress and give victory to yesterday’s economy. We are not saying that there is no place for plastic where there are no alternatives. It is permissible to use things such as medical devices, or other drinks. But we’re talking about doubling the amount of plastic used to move goods. It is unacceptable.
Such goals should be expressed only if they are clearly in the best interest of society, the environment and the economy. Campaigners like Greenpeace are right when they say that increasing the use of plastic is “not compatible with the circular economy”.4. It is worth pointing out that there is still a need to reduce plastic production. Unless this kind of target is rejected or changed, it will take us elsewhere.