aposto-logoÇarşamba, 29 Mart 2023
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Çarşamba, Mart 29, 2023
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THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK

Plastics: the EU vs. the world

♻️ What do the EU's plastic regulations mean for other countries? What are the strategic steps that these countries should follow?

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Recently, the European Union has been trying to lead the solution processes of many global problems, especially the fight against the climate crisis. New regulations, road maps, changing tax systems... And perhaps the most important; regulations on plastic, which is actually one of humanity's biggest problems. So what do the EU's regulations on the use of plastics and plastic packaging mean for non-EU countries?

In this week's article, we discuss the strategic steps that non-EU countries need to take to maintain their competitive advantage and market share.

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THE QUESTION OF THE WEEK

What do the EU's plastic regulations mean for other countries?

♻️ What do the EU's plastic regulations mean for other countries? What are the strategic steps that these countries should follow?

The transition to circular economy continues to gain momentum under the leadership of different countries and regions. Thanks to the European Green Deal, all EU countries are willingly or unwillingly involved in this process, while countries such as the Netherlands, France and Finland stand out by leading this transition process. The United Kingdom, which left the European Union, continues to work rapidly in order to maintain its global leadership position in the transition to circular economy.

So how does the process of transition to circular economy work outside EU countries? In our previous articles, we have discussed what the EU's Circular Economy Roadmap integrated into the European Green Deal will mean for non-EU countries. Of course, when we consider the impact of the EU's leadership of this transition process on other countries, it is necessary to discuss whether EU-oriented regulations cover the rest of the world. Considering the socio-economic situation, time will tell how accurate it is to include non-EU countries in this transformation process only through regulations.

In this week's article, we discuss the impact of the EU's regulations on plastic packaging and plastic use in non-EU countries. While the question of how the regulations and strategic roadmaps determined by the EU should be handled for non-EU countries will be our main focus, the report 'THE EU'S CIRCULAR ECONOMY TRANSITION FOR PLASTICS AND TEXTILE' prepared by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and Chatham House will accompany us.

What should non-EU countries do against the EU's regulations on plastic?

➡️ Prioritise recycling

Recycling is the last resort in circular economy. The main reason for this is not the management of waste, but the principle of preventing waste generation. In other words, instead of a system where we continue to generate waste, we need to design a circular system where we prevent waste generation at the very beginning, namely the design stage. The next steps are repair, maintenance, reuse, remanufacture and finally, recycling.

Nevertheless, the EU's 'Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation' and 'Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive' regulations are recycling-oriented. However, it is worth noting the difference between the use of the word 'recycling' in EU countries and other countries. Unfortunately, recycling materials 100% is not possible due to current technologies. This causes the material to lose its current value in the recycling process. However, the word 'recycling' does not only refer to a transformation centred on loss of value. Recycling literally means the reintroduction of materials into the economy. In other words, it means that the materials are recycled back into the economy with the right strategic steps before recycling, which we know causes loss of value.

The first lesson here is that recycling, which is handled within the scope of EU regulations, actually means that in products such as plastic packaging in non-EU countries, materials with reduced environmental and social impacts and, if possible, recycled materials should be used. It is of critical importance for plastic packaging manufacturers, especially in countries like Turkey that have intensive trade relations with the EU, to use materials that are not only recycling-oriented, but also prevent waste generation thanks to their design, can be reused, can be included in re-production processes and can be recycled at the last stage.

➡️ Demand for recycled plastic

As an outcome of the global struggle against the climate crisis, the demand for the use of recycled plastic materials is increasing day by day. The EU's transition to recycled plastic materials, known as rPET, is of critical importance for non-EU plastic manufacturers.

The EU has not made a commitment to zero plastic use in the near future. However, the use of recycled plastic material has already become a material of interest throughout the entire EU supply chain. In particular, the fact that the plastic packaging of food products is made of recycled plastic material and that this is done in accordance with food safety laws and regulations makes it mandatory for countries producing plastic packaging outside the EU to change their supply chains.

Another critical issue is related to the process of buying waste plastic from abroad and recycling them to produce various products, which is also on the agenda from time to time in countries such as Turkey. While the EU now supplies plastic packaging from non-member countries, it also examines how the raw materials of these products are supplied. For example, even if the plastic packaging produced in Turkey is recycled, it is necessary to transparently explain how the materials included in the recycling process are made. This makes the inclusion of local waste in recycling processes much more important.

In addition, the practice of recycling the EU's waste by sending it to Turkey and similar countries is coming to an end. Thanks to the recycling facilities, the number of which is planned to increase rapidly in EU countries, the EU will now be able to recycle its waste within itself without sending it to other countries. In other words, while the EU-originated wastes coming to Turkey are decreasing, the environmental and social impacts of the wastes coming from other countries should also be taken into account.

➡️ Digitalisation and innovation

While the demand for recycled materials in plastics and plastic packaging is growing, the potential for plastic manufacturers is not limited to recycling. For pioneering countries and companies of circular economy, innovative plastic products made from biodegradable, single-material plastics also have enormous potential. Therefore, innovation is critical for non-EU countries to maintain and increase their share in the EU market.

In addition, with Industry 4.0 technologies, the demand for transparency from consumers regarding many products and services we use in daily life is increasing day by day for plastics and plastic packaging products. While the consumer demand for more detailed and transparent information about the environmental and social impacts of the products is increasing as opposed to cursory information, regulations are forcing manufacturers to transform in this area.

The use of life cycle analysis (LCA) is on the rise, while consumers' demand for information on raw material procurement, production processes, logistics and even post-use processes of products continues to increase. At this point, it would not be wrong to predict that the level of awareness of consumers in EU member states on these issues will increase with the strategic steps of the EU. For this reason, it does not seem possible for plastic and plastic packaging manufacturers in non-EU countries to maintain their current business models unless innovation and digitalisation are included.

🔎 Circular Economy 101's take: The sustainability efforts led by the EU and the transition to circular economy are very important, especially for countries with intensive trade relations with the EU. Nevertheless, it is not realistic to expect that a transformation process focused solely on EU strategies on issues such as climate crisis, hunger, gender equality, etc. will be accepted globally. It is important for each country and each region to design a transformation process in accordance with its own geographical, demographic, cultural and economic structure. In other words, a correct strategy determined according to the socio-economic structure of a country, not only according to the directives from the EU, is important for the transition to circular economy.

Regulations play a key role for the transition to circular economy. Although keeping up with this change process led by countries is critical in terms of economic competition, it is also important for the localisation principle of the transition to circular economy that countries determine a transformation strategy according to their own characteristics, not only in line with demands from the leading countries. A business model that works in another country cannot directly be adapted in Turkey and needs to be updated according to the culture. Similarly, it will not be possible to manage the transition to circular economy correctly in the accordance with direct external demand.

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Related Keywords

circular economy

economy

European Green Deal

United Kingdom

European Union

United Nations Industrial Development Organization

Chatham House

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