VinylPlus Sustainability Forum explores plastic and the circular economy

The 2019 VinylPlus Sustainability Forum heard how recycling is a key part of VinylPlus’ Voluntary Commitment to sustainability.

VinylPlus, the Voluntary Commitment of the European PVC industry, recycled nearly 740,000 tonnes of PVC in 2018, a 15.6% increase from 2017. The results are published in the 2019 Progress Report, recently launched at the seventh VinylPlus Sustainability Forum in Prague, where the PVC industry addressed some of the most pressing challenges facing the industry and shared further progress towards increasing the sustainability performance of PVC.

Brigitte Dero, VinylPlus General Manager, said: “VinylPlus continues to be a frontrunner for the circular economy. Through our Voluntary Commitment, we are making continuous progress towards our sustainability goals amid the development of EU policies impacting the plastics sector.”

Recycling is a key part of VinylPlus’ Voluntary Commitment to sustainability and the circular economy. Recovinyl remains the main contributor, registering 734,568 tonnes of recycled PVC. Cumulatively, almost five million tonnes of PVC have been recycled since 2000. 2018 was an exciting year as VinylPlus officially launched the VinylPlus® Product Label. The Product Label is a sustainability certification scheme for all PVC building and construction products, making it simpler for customers, specifiers and markets to identify PVC products and solutions delivering the highest sustainability performance and contribution to the circular economy. The Product Label is based on sustainability criteria, including responsible sourcing and additives. To date, eight profile manufacturers – Deceuninck, Epwin Window System, Finstral, Internorm, Rehau, Salamander Industrie Produkte, Schüco and Veka – have been awarded the Product Label for 43 profile systems manufactured in 13 European sites across 11 countries.

The report outlines the European PVC industry’s efforts towards the five key sustainability challenges identified for PVC on the basis of The Natural Step (TNS) System Conditions for a Sustainable Society. The five challenges include controlled loop management, sustainable use of additives, sustainable use of energy and raw materials, organochlorine emissions; and sustainability awareness.

The Progress Report was launched at the 2019 VinylPlus Sustainability Forum which took place in Prague from 9-10 May; with the theme of ‘Accelerating Innovation’. The forum featured speakers from the European Commission, European Parliament, the Czech Ministry of Environment, the United Nations, NGOs, academia, specifiers, designers, recyclers and the PVC value chain.

Recently re-elected MEP Martina Dlabajová said: “Evolution towards sustainable development requires a change of mindset. I often find myself using VinylPlus as an example of a voluntary commitment to sustainable development from industry that works. Only through cooperation with businesses and industry can politicians make informed decisions.”

Dlabajová told attendees at the VinylPlus Sustainability Forum about the ways in which innovation and sustainability affect the skills needed in the work force, saying: “What do you think is the topic coming up every debate with any kind of citizen? Climate change, sustainability and, of course, environment. It is so interesting because this is the first campaign and political debate where these are the first questions – VinylPlus is an example of voluntary commitment and how something which is feasible and shows how policymakers can co-operate with businesspeople.

“First of all, the topic of accelerating innovation cannot be more timely – we need to focus on the process of how we can achieve a society that will be able to accelerate innovation and how to use tech advancement for our own good. If we want to aim toward sustainable growth of our society we need to focus on the most important pillars; the environment pillar and economy pillar, but we need a social pillar as well. If you want to reach sustainable development, we cannot ignore any of these – including areas such as health security in the workplace, social equality, human rights, and quality of life in general. The level of technical innovation directly affects our life. The social dimension of sustainability means much more than that because it means the possibility of living in a society that will be prepared for change and would take the challenges and turn them into their own good.

“We need to ask: is it possible to change the mindset of our society? We must start with our youth and start with education. Today in Europe more than half of the 12 million long term unemployed do not have sufficient qualifications or skills to succeed in the labour market because there is inappropriate education policy framework. Skills for the future workforce must be acquired in school today but we do not see this happening. Every change starts with our youth – are we giving them the right skills that employers look for? Do we combine theoretical and practical skills, giving them opportunity to learn and to continue to learn their whole life?

“40% of companies say they struggle to find people with the right skills and on the other side, the same number, 40% of young people cannot find a job matching their skills. For this reason, we need to ensure current education and skills are linked to the labour market. We cannot speak about employment measures without thinking about education first. Europe can coordinate Member States, exchange best practices and set up projects, and the European Commission has now taken concrete steps in policymaking. It concluded that we need to have in mind an institutional triangle cooperation of business, industry, education, politicians and policy makers – we need stronger involvement of all these sectors because education is a collective.

“We need to make real progress in education, so companies need to commit themselves to be open to working with education institutions, making people ready for future labour market needs. It is employers who can anticipate this change. Nobody is able to tell us which specific professions we will need in the future but by closer co-operation between these industries we can anticipate the advancement. Communication must improve on all levels by supporting internships and implementing elements of dual learning systems. It is not a coincidence that countries with a dual learning system have the lowest youth unemployment rate.”

Czech Environment Minister Richard Brabec also spoke at the VinylPlus Sustainability Forum. He said: “The Czech Republic strongly supports the long term sustainable management of plastic in the context of the circular economy. Plastic is very widely used and allows us to do things that we would never be able to do without it – it serves in architecture, transport, communication and in many other parts of our lives. Plastic is positive; however, you can see plastic pollution in almost every part of our planet and environment – seas, mountain and forest. There is a big production of plastic but no so high demand for recycling and for recycled product. There is also an overuse of plastic in food packaging, for example, and poor design of plastic product.

“We see the following as essential for the future use of plastic; to establish a green regulatory framework around the use of plastic, microplastic and single use plastic, and to extended user responsibility in the industry in relation to well recycled plastic and packaging, as well as to find functional and practical reduction of oversize plastic. We need to find appropriate solutions in the field of eco-design to bring economic incentive for the use of recycled products, to support education activities regarding consumer behaviour regarding using single-use plastic. Finally, we need to support the building of high quality and efficient recycling infrastructure as this will help to solve the problem.”

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