EU sparks greenwashing fears over "100% recycled plastic" claims


(Photo: Freepik)

Does the label "100% recycled plastic" on beverage bottles truly mean that the entire bottle must be made of recycled plastic? The European Commission seems to think otherwise, intending to adopt a laxer approach to the definition, sparking discontent and raising questions from environmental groups and other recycling stakeholders, accusing the EU of indirectly encouraging greenwashing.

The crux lies in how recycled plastic is calculated. According to documents obtained by the political news website Politico, the European Commission plans to allow companies to combine recycling credits from different products to claim that a specific product is made entirely from 100% recycled plastic.

Lauriane Veillard, a policy researcher at Zero Waste Europe, expressed concerns, saying, "for me, this is a really high risk of greenwashing."

The Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS) also believes that preventive measures should be in place, otherwise environmentally friendly recycling claims become a meaningless accounting exercise.

According to ECOS analysis, there are three regulatory chain-of-custody models in the EU:

  • Segregation: Recycled plastic and virgin plastic are used separately, providing the clearest proof of using 100% recycled plastic.
  • Controlled blending: Recycled plastic and virgin plastic are blended but following strict traceability and proportion standards.
  • Mass balance: Plastics from different products are mixed, and the proportion of recycled plastic can be freely determined and reflected in designated products.

Among these, "mass balance" is the approach advocated by the plastics industry. A note obtained by Politico indicates that industry players have even warned the European Commission that "if the regulations are too strict, investment projects in chemical recycling may be restricted, hindering the overall industry development."

Furthermore, mechanical recyclers complain that if the EU adopts a laxer policy, it would be unfair to those genuinely using 100% recycled plastic, and the accusation of greenwashing could trigger strong resistance from the public against the recycling industry.

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