Launched by the European Union, the “Circular Plastics Alliance” (CPA) aims to bring 10 million tonnes of recycled plastics into the EU market alone by 2025. To date, more than 310 organisations (industry, academia, and public authorities) have joined this challenging initiative dedicated to plastic. Versalis, the Eni’s chemical company, is among the signatories and, building a circular European economy of plastic by increasing the recycling, it’s one of its main goals.
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Since plastic began to be used, its global production has increased dramatically, from 2 million tonnes in 1950 to approximately 390.7 million tonnes in 2021.
In the last year, 90.2% of the world's plastic production was of fossil origin, 8.3% came from post-consumer recycling and 1.5% was made up of bio and bio-attributed plastic. The small percentage of plastic containing recycled material is related to the way the end of life of this material is managed.
It is estimated that less than 10% of plastic waste produced globally is recycled (15% is actually collected separately, but 40% is disposed of). Over the years, significant progress has been made at a European level in the recovery and recycling of plastic and in the use of recycled plastic.
From 2006 to 2020, also thanks to the introduction of separate collection, the share of recycled post-consumer plastic waste increased by 117%. In 2020, about 35% of collected plastic waste was sent for recycling, 42% for energy recovery and the remaining 23% was sent to landfill. At the same time, the use of post-consumer recycled plastic in Europe reached 9.9% of production.
In order to reduce waste, make the most of resources and guarantee an increasingly sustainable future, it is essential that we move towards a circular economy on an international scale, involving industry, institutions, the various value chains and citizens. Europe has taken a leadership role in implementing this new model and combating climate change by developing an increasing number of legislative and non-legislative policy initiatives.
The main examples include the Plastics Strategy - which outlined the EU's action plan to increase the sustainability of the sector and pursue the transition to a more circular economy - and the New Circular Economy Action Plan, part of the broader Green Deal1, which includes initiatives along the entire product life cycle to promote circular economy processes, encourage sustainable consumption, ensure that the resources used remain in the EU economy for as long as possible, and reduce waste generation.
The Circular Plastics Alliance further boosted the promotion of proper plastic waste management and the reintroduction of quotas of recycled plastic into production processes. It is a synergistic effort that recognises the value of plastic and the key role of the recycling of this precious resource, and it contributes to creating a world free of plastic waste.
1The Deal includes a set of proposals adopted by the European Commission to restructure the Union's climate, energy, transport and taxation policies to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
As part of its strategy, Versalis has undertaken a transformation process leading to a circular economy in three main areas:
- recycling of polymers and tyres
- circular packaging
- feedstock diversification.
On the path to sustainability and circularity, Versalis has adopted two major approaches: the Life Cycle Perspective as a guiding element in the approach to product and process development, and the active involvement and awareness-raising of all stakeholders including employees.
In keeping with its circular economy strategy, by joining the CPA (Chemical Pharmaceutical Generic Association), Versalis has formalised its contribution to these issues by signing the following voluntary pledges by 2025:
- 50% of industrial polyethylene packaging used by Versalis will contain up to 50% recycled material and must be further recyclable and/or reusable
- To produce up to 100,000 tonnes of polyolefin-based compounds containing up to 70% post-consumer polyolefins for applications that today mainly use virgin polyethylene
- To produce and market up to 20,000 tonnes of styrenic polymers containing up to 50% recycled product for the packaging and insulation sector
- To develop a new chemical recycling technology to strengthen and increase the recovery and recycling of post-consumer plastics in Southern Europe, thus making it possible to produce polymers identical to those obtained from fossil raw materials. The goal is to apply the technology on an industrial scale. The first step is technological development through a demonstration plant capable of processing 6000 t/y of mixed plastic
- To carry out specific certified life cycle analysis (LCA) studies on each main initiative or project in the field of sustainability/circular economy to demonstrate their actual sustainability
- To develop in-house initiatives to involve all staff and encourage them to recover and recycle plastic products they use every day.
Versalis makes insulating panels for buildings in expandable polystyrene obtained from the reuse of plastics.
Some points of interest
Plastic has become one of the most widely used materials in all sectors in the world, thanks to its unrivalled versatility, durability, lightness and adaptability. The different types of plastic available simplify and improve our daily lives, offering practical solutions in several fields, while contributing to saving resources and improving the environmental footprint: just think of the thermal insulation of buildings or of the parts contained in means of transport which contribute to reducing fuel consumption because they are light without compromising safety, or their use in food preservation, which reduces food waste.
A recent study also highlighted the important role that plastic could play in the future to meet new needs and contribute to the development of technological, economic and social trends that will emerge in the coming years, among them climate change and the scarcity of energy and food2 resources.
Since plastic is so important and widely used, it is essential that we promote virtuous models of end-of-life management, making sure we have an effective collection, sorting and recycling system so that it can be reintroduced into the production cycle and given a new lease of life.
Both Versalis and the Eni Group have introduced a series of measures to support a responsible use of plastic and to make sure that plastic products are sent for recycling at the end of their lives by asking their employees to adopt conscious and circular behaviours.
For example, the Eni group introduced the RiVending project, an initiative for the dedicated collection of coffee cups from vending machines in the refreshment areas of its San Donato Milanese offices. Thanks to the collaboration of third-party companies along the supply chain and of the Corepla Consortium, this collection makes it possible to produce new selected raw material ready to be fed into the Versalis plants in Mantua for the production of expandable polystyrene, which is then used in making insulation sheets for buildings and protective packaging for household appliances and furniture.
In this way, it is possible to give new and lasting life to products used in our everyday lives. This initiative demonstrates how fundamental the involvement of consumers is to ensure the success of the circular model: there is no circular economy without good waste management, which starts from the education of individual citizens.
2The circularity of plastics: industrial opportunities, innovation and economic-occupational benefits for Italy - Studio Ambrosetti (2022).
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