The Big Missing Piece to Europe’s Circular Economy

The EU faces two great sustainability challenges. Food waste and packaging waste. There is a huge opportunity to recover these waste resources and wasted energy by collecting these millions of tonnes separately. The benefits of a real push to place separate collection at the heart of the circular economy will vastly outweigh any of the additional efforts required to make it happen.

Our abundant European countries trash an estimated 100 million tonnes of food each year. That’s one tonne for every five EU citizens or 2-3 times the weight of your average adult, for each EU citizen. Not to speak of the associated carbon emissions.

Packaging plays a key role in preserving food, helping avoid food waste, keeping food’s environmental impact to a minimum and enabling today’s active lifestyles. Two thirds of the 90 million tonnes of packaging we use are recycled, but that’s not enough.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it… is to continue our trend of healthier eating all the while reducing food waste and making better use of the raw materials we dispose of when our packaging has served its initial purpose. Food scraps can be composted and food-grade packaging recycled… if we collect them separately! Mixed together, they are aren’t much good.

In Europe, food-grade packaging is made of the highest quality materials - virgin fibres, virgin resin or recycled plastics like rPET that have been melted at such high temperatures that they are as good as new. And we throw away millions of tonnes of these premium raw materials each year.

If only we collected these separately we could gather enough of them that many entrepreneurs could find viable ways of recycling these so that they can have a second life as new products. Already today some have made it their business to turn paper cups into recycled paper bags, or PET bottles into recycled PET fruit dishes… we can do so much more.

What we need is ambitious separate collection targets across Europe.

The EU missed a chance to enable much greater recycling throughout Europe and omitted to set ambitious EU-wide separate collection targets in its 2018 Circular Economy set of laws for sustainable European waste management. But this valuable solution is not lost. Each and every EU country is still free to set its own ambitious objectives. And when the time comes to fix or improve the current set of rules again, the EU will have another chance to opt for more and better separate collection.

With effective separate collection, recycling in Europe can begin in earnest and the motor of the EU circular economy can be truly fired up.

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