MOVECO - Innovation group 1 – challenges and recommendations (Action plan)

MOVECO established action plans for three innovation groups. Austria, Germany, and Slovenia were ranked into the same group characterised as Innovation group I. During the final phase of project implementation all three countries were ranked as eco innovation leaders according to the eco-innovation scoreboard. The most recent results published for 2018 shows Slovenia has dropped a few places but remains above the EU average value.

Current status

Each country is currently in different stages of implementing new legislation to comply with the requirements of the modified waste directives and the new directive on single use plastics, which should support the transition to a circular economy for identified municipal waste streams, including (waste) packaging, electronic and electrical equipment, as well as batteries and accumulators.

Efficient management of plastic waste presented and still presents one of the greatest common challenges within this innovation group, especially regarding single use plastic packaging, which coincides with the main EU and global environmental issues.

High collection rates of mixed packaging, with not enough attention to the quality of the waste collected, generate materials not desirable for material recovery. Separate collection, extracting materials before they enter household waste streams, keep the material flow cleaner but can be more complicated. Due to inconsistent quality and quantity of recycled plastics, the market for recycled plastics lacks stability for procurers of these materials.

Most of the companies performing plastic recycling are SMEs. The number of plastic recycling installations are higher in Austria and Germany. Both countries also have incineration facilities with heat recovery to treat waste, which may compete for materials with recycling facilities.

With China closing its border to the import of plastic waste and the transition to better eco-design still in the nascent stage of development and implementation, incineration plants with energy recovery are still a vital part of the waste management infrastructure.

What is needed?

In addition to better design for recovery, a key issue for better recycling is to keep material flows clean, through improved separate collection and prevention of cross contamination. More focus needs to be set on quality, not just on quantity.

Waste management targets on product categories could capture hidden rare, valuable, and critical materials, instead of material waste streams focused on recycling only high mass, base materials.

A stable market for recycled plastics, based on improved quality of collected wastes, needs to be created, connecting and networking the whole value chain to improve design for better waste management.

The market needs to be supported with transparent framework conditions for tracking material flows within the production value chain. Extended producer responsibility costs must transparently reflect actual waste management costs per product category, encouraging producers to better understand product waste management implications during product design.

Inter alia, cooperation within the Danube region should implement circular economy business models and exchange of good practice. Green public procurement should provide a model encouraging demand of recycled plastic products, while educating consumers, who need to be included in all these activities, especially for raising awareness and spreading information.