Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Provided... except... unless...
Last month, the EU Commission issued a working document: ‘Assessment Report of the Voluntary Pledges ….’
(actually, it's a better read than the title would suggest.)
Based on 70 voluntary corporate pledges, the report forecasts that by 2025, EU demand for recycled plastic materials will be 6.4M tonnes (up 2.9M), and supply will grow to 11M tonnes.
Great! It looks like the EU will have a thriving plastics circular economy - with further room to grow - in just over 5 years. They've got the pledges to prove it.
Pledges. Made genuinely, and with full intent to deliver. But a lot can happen between the promise and the delivery. Businesses have responsibilities to shareholders and staff - as well as community.
Everyone wants to be part of the circular economy solution - but not alone, and not if it puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
The pledges identify ample demand, but they come with some very specific conditions attached:
particular r-plastic types, in sufficient quantity, at suitable quality, at competitive prices, and consistently available on the EU market.
That's quite a lot to unbundle and solve. (11M tonnes of mixed plastics will not support businesses needing food-grade r-PET for example)
Businesses are in the business of business. If the terms they have articulated can be met, then circularity will follow. But what will happen to those pledges if the conditions are not (or cannot be) met?
Knowing the terms of trade should be sufficient to disrupt the marketplace, but there are more conditions at play – some conflicting, some aspirational and some to be expected. For instance, Supply and Demand requires increased collection and sorting to boost recovery - yet the technically recyclable versus actually recycled debate remains unresolved.
Some are hedging their bets on chemical recycling being the panacea for our waste woes. Indeed, this emerging field could be the hoped-for game-changer, but it is still emerging, and it does not negate the terms of trade.
Is a Conditional Pledge just an Empty promise?
Cynics may well focus on the conditional nature of the pledges, highlighting the loopholes that enable a business to walk away from a commitment. This is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
While the terms of trade are essential to make circularity work, they are not the story here.
The value in these voluntary pledges, is not so much about how much recovered plastic will be demanded and supplied, but rather that they are PUBLIC commitments. Shareholders are investing, staff are producing, consumers are buying, and suppliers and competitors are acting, based on the commitments made. There is no convenient exit option.
These pledges are not business transactions, they are a vehicle for broad engagement and stakeholder alignment. They give context and flavour to the narrative we need for circularity.
The reference to ‘we’ is intentional. No one corporate pledge alone will create the circular economy. We, the stakeholders in the value chain, need to play our parts.
We are the buyers, the sellers, the end-users, the experts. We know our subject matter from every angle. It’s time for us all to stop worrying about the terms of the pre-nup, and just get on with the business of making it work.