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15 November 2021

How to manage circularity for the post-consumer plastic packaging sector

The plastic packaging sector is based mainly on a linear model and this generates negative repercussions on the environment and society, as well as dispersing precious material that would still be exploitable, with benefits in terms of profitability and employment. The challenges to achieve the circularity of the system are widespread throughout the supply chain and require collaboration and dialogue between the parties, which can be managed through an approach that embraces the entire value chain. 

The collective packaging system is an integrated system along the value chain, which allows the management and enhancement of the materials used in packaging (steel, aluminum, paper, wood, plastic, bioplastic, glass). In Italy, the National Packaging Consortium (Conai) is a private consortium operating on a non-profit basis, established on the basis of the Ronchi Decree of 1997, to respect political guidelines and objectives and promote prevention, recovery, reuse and recycling initiatives, therefore support the circularity of the system. 

Conai, in particular through the National Consortium for the collection, recycling and recovery of plastic packaging (Corepla), is responsible for improving the circularity of the system through collaboration with the Municipalities and with the companies belonging to the Consortium, through the enhancement of the flow of material and the management of an economic flow. 

From an economic point of view, an Environmental Contribution (CAC) has been introduced for consortium members, producers and users of packaging. The contribution is defined on the basis of the weight and type of packaging material, for example the contribution is greater for less common plastics and for which the technologies and post-consumer enhancement processes are less consolidated. The CAC is based on the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility and is expected to grow incrementally over the years. These economic resources represent the form of financing through which Conai divides the cost to separate collect, recycle and recover of packaging waste between producers and users. 

At the same time, the flow of material has its genesis in the production plants or import of plastic raw materials, continues in processing, use and filling plants, and is finally distributed in the form of packaging for the final use of consumers. These steps are equivalent to different markets where packaging is widely used (food and agricultural, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, construction, industrial packaging). Downstream of consumption, plastic materials are managed through separate collection streams and reach treatment plants for separation, washing and recycling. The resulting output can be classified as secondary raw material (MPS) that can be reused in the production industry for packaging or other applications. 

Out of 1,914,000 tons of plastic packaging used in the market and managed by Corepla in 2020, Italy recovered 1,820,270 tons. This 95% allows Italy to be among the top three most virtuous countries in Europe. According to the principles of the Circular Economy it is a virtuous system because it allows the circular enhancement of materials, reduces the release to landfills, promotes the use of more sustainable raw materials and a product design that facilitates business models of reuse or repair.