The focal topics of the roundtable included the need for strengthened partnerships across the supply chain and with public institutions; further research into new materials and bold action on eco-design; and the complexity of the chemicals issue when plastics are involved.
Mr. William Neale from the European Commission (EC) focused his intervention on an open call to all business partners to increase the amount of recycled plastics they use in order to boost this secondary market and recalled the recent action launched by the EC to limit the use and production of single-use plastics.
The European Parliament – represented by the prominent Finnish MEP Ms. Sirpa Pietikäinen – was very vocal on the need to tackle chemicals in plastics, especially Endocrine Disruptive Chemicals (EDCs) and encouraged consumer co-operatives to carry out a reflection about a paradigm shift “from volumes to services”.
From his side, Mr. Antonello Pezzini – Member of the European Economic and Social Committee presented the success of concrete business cases in replacing plastics by alternative materials, like saccharose for small objects, and how the circular economy challenge could lead to positive industrial transformation.
In the consumer co-operative panel, all representatives gave highlights about the work done so far in reducing and optimizing plastics use. Ms. Lea Rankinen – Vice-President of S Group, Finland presented the company’s target of 100% recyclable private label packaging by 2022; their work so far in reducing plastic bags use and the banning of microplastics in private label cosmetics and detergents, as well as that of PVC in packaging.
Mr. Mathias Hvam – Packaging & Circular Economy Manager at Coop Denmark illustrated the newly launched strategy for sustainable packaging, which focuses on, among other things, the need to aim for recyclable packaging, search for recycled and renewable materials and phase out harmful chemicals to protect consumers’ health.
The third consumer co-operative perspective was provided by Mr. Vittorio Ramazza – Project Management & Communications Expert at Coop Italy, who presented the decade-long work carried out with suppliers to continuously find and market more sustainable packaging options, as well the numerous campaigns carried out by Coop Italy to raise awareness about the circular economy systemic challenge and the plastics issue.
The third panel provided the perspective of experts from leading NGOs, packaging industry and think-tanks. Mr. Pelle Moos – Team Leader for Health at the European Consumers’ Association (BEUC) focused his intervention on the need to phase out dangerous chemicals from plastics (“detoxify the circular economy”), whilst Ms. Virginia Janssens – Managing Director of the European Association for Packaging and the Environment (EUROPEN) emphasized the need for policy makers to reach policy coherence and seek proportionality when addressing the packaging sector, because of the plethora of potentially overlapping policy measures currently on the table. The last speaker was Ms. Susanna Gionfra – Policy Analyst from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), who urged all businesses in the room to strictly implement the waste hierarchy, to look for creative alternatives to packaging, such as laser marking, and to intensify research and innovation of new materials.
The President of Euro Coop Mr. Massimo Bongiovanni drew the conclusions of the day. He underlined that the plastics challenge should be first and foremost seen as an opportunity by businesses and other societal stakeholders to explore potential partnerships, search for common principles and common ground for action.
He stressed the role that consumer co-operatives are willing to play in this process by talking to their suppliers and consumer-members, as well as by continuing the precious educational work many Euro Coop associates carry out directly with schools. Listening, educating and nudging will be the key in transforming the existing economy into a truly circular one and consumer co-operatives are among the frontrunners in the realization of this crucial environmental, economic and societal goal.
Euro Coop received several positive feedbacks and encouragements to continue exploring this topic. More than 40 people were in attendance in a day which saw a lot of overlapping conferences and institutional work taking place.