The development of global plastic recycling economy is facing a "shift" moment

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Entering 2022, the global market has shown that voluntary commitments by some companies to tackle plastic pollution are not effective enough.

According to the 2022 Progress report released by the Global Commitment to the New Plastics Economy, which represents 20% of global plastic packaging use, the total amount of raw plastics used by its signatories in 2021 has returned to the 2018 base level, reversing the decline seen in 2019 and 2020.


The proportion of packaging consumption in the re-use mode of the signatories decreased year by year, only 1.2% of the total in 2021. It is clear that, relying solely on voluntary commitments by companies, no significant progress can be made in key indicators, and there has even been a regression.


Global leading environmental organizations and institutions have been aware of this serious challenge, so in the past two years, they have been more actively accelerating the progress of the global plastics agreement, and their work related to plastics agreement content and investment proportion has been more prominent.


Hopes for a global plastics deal are high but difficulties abound


In one of the world's most ambitious environmental initiatives since the 1989 Montreal Protocol, UN member states have agreed at the fifth UN Environment Conference to develop a legally binding international agreement to combat plastic pollution.

However, there are huge differences between countries in their approach to the positioning of a global plastics agreement. As a major plastic producer and consumer in the world, the United States proposed a negotiating position based on national action plans on the basis of its own plastic recycling rate of only about 6%, allowing individual countries to determine the total amount of plastic they produce and use. Meanwhile, the American proposal's emphasis on plastic recycling, as well as investing in infrastructure, is hardly convincing.

Many people around the world have lost faith in similar pledges, such as the Paris climate agreement, arguing that its actions have failed to stop the pace of global climate change. In addition, the United States' main foreign spokesman for the plastic deal negotiations said at the Plastics Recycling Conference in early March that he wanted the deal to be a holistic approach, including reduction and reuse.

The United Nations received 60 open proposals from Member States and some 200 proposals from non-governmental organizations. A second round of consultations will be held in Paris from 29 May to 2 June, with several major proposers facing each other head-on.

Among them, the European Union and the End Plastic High Ambition Coalition, led by Norway and Rwanda, have proposed a global target for reducing plastic production.

The alliance claims that every country should take effective measures to reduce the production of raw plastic polymers to a consistent level and achieve common goals. The proposal is clearly at odds with what the United States, Saudi Arabia and others have proposed.

The alliance covers Canada, Mexico, Australia and most of the European Union.


The European Union serves as a locomotive for the development of the global plastic circular economy


As the international community attaches greater importance to plastic pollution control, the differences in communication become more prominent. As the circular economy system is regarded as the key to the Green New Deal in the European Union, the construction of its circular economy provides a powerful model for the world, and its promotion degree and effectiveness will provide a very valuable reference for other countries around the world.

After the European Plastics Strategy and a plastic directive, the European Union is trying to increase more comprehensive driving force for the construction of plastic recycling economy in Europe through the packaging and Packaging Waste regulations (PPWR). It is clear that the setting and management of recyclability, as well as the requirements for recycling content, will have a huge impact not only on the EU internal market and the packaging industry, but also on the interests and operations of external stakeholders.

Among them, the EU Circular Economy Development Action Plan and other regulations require that by 2030, all packaging must be economically viable, recyclable or reusable. Therefore, the definition of recyclability, and based on this definition, the link with relevant certification and packaging labels, will have a certain impact on the packaging products exported to the EU by countries including China.

The determination of recycling content has a key impact not only on the physical recycling industry within and outside the EU borders, but also on so-called advanced recycling technologies such as BHET depolymerization.

At present, the ReMade labeling mechanism under discussion in Australia not only encourages the use of recycled content, but also proposes suggestions such as whether the major transformation of ReMade products must take place in Australia, and 50% of the recycled content must be locally produced and so on.

The Commission's proposed level 5 recycling assessment is based on the proportion of packaging mass that can be recycled: less than 70% of the mass of packaging that is non-recyclable will be banned from 2030. From 2035, only packaging that can be recycled at scale will be allowed on the market.

This definition is: plastics can be collected, sorted and recycled through advanced infrastructure and processes covering 75% of the EU population. However, innovative just-to-market packaging is exempt from the above 5 level definitions and has a 5 year marketing exemption period.

(Recyclability performance grades Recyclability per unit,in weight)

≥95% ≥90% ≥80% ≥70% <70%
Packaging is considered  as recyclable;EPR ;license fee to be modulated according to grades. banned from 2030


The five-level recycling assessment proposed by the Commission is based on the proportion of packaging mass that can be recovered.

At present, some European enterprises have begun to provide recycling certification for the packaging requirements of exports to the EU. The requirements are generally two certifications: one is Institute Cyclos-HTP certification in Germany and the other is a European Plastic Recycling Protocol (PRE) RecyClass certification.


It is urgent to define the system construction scheme for the development of plastic recycling


At present, packaging, electronic appliances, automobiles, construction and agricultural plastics and other recycling development pattern is not the same. As the largest plastic waste market block, plastic packaging waste after consumption basically relies on informal system to collect and concentrate.

In order to save labor costs and improve the quality of PET bottle packaging in recent two years, automatic sorting equipment was rapidly adopted to upgrade. In addition, the scale of bottle chip enterprises is also expanding, and the pelletizing capacity is also growing rapidly.

In addition, the recycling of HDPE and PP miscellaneous plastics and hollow plastics, due to the active involvement of private enterprises, and the back-end has a large amount of demand, the production capacity is gradually concentrated, the construction of new production capacity is also very fast, and some high-end materials are exported. Continued export demand is at risk as foreign demand tends to buy locally.

Although the packaging field relies on market forces to promote the development of some areas, but because of the limited back-end demand, capital investment and research and development are relatively limited, and it is difficult to form a system transformation. In the film and soft package recycling, due to the lack of external incentives, the industry has not improved significantly in recent years, basically running at a low level.

Businesses that recycle plastic PET bottles are growing. Many bottle suppliers start to invest new food grade bottle to bottle PET bottle washing lines.


Comparing with external policies, demand-driven industry and value chain cooperation is an effective way. Regulations and policies that push the front end to take responsibility for the back end can help shape the whole system.

In contrast to the development and discussion of extended producer responsibility systems in areas such as electronics and automobiles, packaging and agricultural plastics, such as pesticide packaging and oil cans, challenges remain and fundamental changes have not yet taken place.



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