London – The European Commission will need close collaboration with industry and accurate and reliable data if it is to have any chance of reaching the step-change in resource efficiency targeted by its circular economy policy.
But, according to Patrick Thomas, president of European plastics manufacturers association PlasticsEurope and CEO of Covestro, the first information material to come out on the circular economy contained “a lot of numbers, which were pretty much guesswork: sometimes informed, sometimes uninformed.”
Speaking at a PlasticsEurope forum during K2016, he argued, if European policy makers do not base their decisions on facts and engage properly with industry, they will end up with data that is not real and, indeed, open to ridicule.
For example, Thomas pointed to the European Union automotive end of life vehicle (ELV) legislation. This, he said, was a good policy framework for labelling, design-for-assembly, segregation of different types of polymer and the ability to identify sources of the polymers and how they can be recycled.
“But, then, what we have actually discovered was that less than half of the vehicles in Europe are captured in any statistic at all. We don’t know what happens to the other half of the vehicles,” said the Covestro boss. “The automotive industry just doesn’t know where those vehicles go.
“So (the ELV legislation) as such was a great piece of policy but without an accurate understanding of how industries work, you cannot design a framework that can be implemented.”
But, said Thomas, while the ELV legislation had “essentially failed” in terms of output and results, it did offer crucial lessons for the introduction of the EC circular economy policy, and the role that industry should play in this.
Thomas’ views echo continuing concerns within the European tire sector over the wide gap between the recorded number of tires going onto the market and the number of end-of-life tires in the EU.
As Francesco Gori strategy advisor to Apollo and former CEO of Pirelli said at this year’s Future Tire Conference in Essen, Germany: “It is known how many tires have been imported into Europe, and how many tires are made in Europe and sold in Europe. You sum these up and total what the tire recovery consortiums in all EU countries have collected, and there is a gap of millions of tires.”
There are, however, some widely differing opinions on how to plug the data gap, with Peter Taylor of the UIK-based Tyre Recovery Association pointing to the challenges of monitoring the EU’s “incredibly multi-brand” tire market especially at the point-of-entry to the marketplace.
“They are never going to get on top of situation, it is much better to try and capture the problem further down the chain,” he said.
For his part, Jean-Pierre Taverne, environment & ELT coordinator of the ETRMA (European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association), said an extended producer responsibility model backed by – as is in France – tougher enforcement and fines for anyone operating illegally, is the best way forward.
Looking at the wider picture, though, perhaps the real missing link in all of this is the European Commission: its officials consistently fail to respond to questions or attend open meetings to address concerns within the plastics & rubber and tire industries about the circular economy or even the shortcomings of current environmental policy.