Interview with Herman Van Roost from Total

Total discuss the circularity challenge faced by material suppliers

As part of the  'Packaging materials’ session at  Sustainability in Packaging Europe, interviewed Herman Van Roost, Business Development Manager Recycling of TOTAL Polymers Business gave us his perspectives on the challenges faced by material suppliers within the industry:

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Why do you think it is important to attend the Sustainability in Packaging conference?      
The sustainability in Packaging conference is the best occasion to start or continue working at the Circular Economy, which is an unprecedented dynamic for all materials.

This new systemic thinking of waste becoming feedstock for next cycles of use is putting all economic actors in new roles : suppliers become customers of the same molecules, waste operators become feedstock suppliers.

In the Circular Economy, packaging occupies a privileged position amongst the industrial sectors because its products have the shortest cycle of use, resulting in specific advantages as new raw material in terms of predictable availability and compliance to regulations. Used packages will turn in closed loops as feedstock for new packaging again, but will also become the materials of choice for many other sectors interested to integrate circular content.

In order to realise this high level ambition, all packaging actors face an exciting period of intense cooperation and coordination.

How do you foresee the future of packaging sustainability over the next 5 years?

Within the next years, an increasing priority for the circularity criterion will remove a lot of the current confusion and trade-offs between competing sustainability measures and definitions.  Active cooperation between ‘circular stakeholders’ will allow to focus on (and benefit from) overall resource optimisation, instead of sub-optimisation by individual actors at the expense of the circular chain economics or even circular feasibility.

This will require new rules and incentives, which regulators have already begun to develop, because the stakes for the society are too high to accept the status quo to continue. The current set of European and national KPI’s and measures focused on ‘how well the waste issue is handled’ will gradually be extended with the real circularity KPI : circular content in the material flows.

For European manufacturers of sustainable packaging, access to circular content will require sufficient local (at least European) availability of recyclate, and hence a thriving European recycling industry whose feedstock is not landfilled, incinerated or exported to China.

What are the main challenges the industry is facing from a material supplier perspective and how do you think this conference can overcome them?      

Plastics face a special challenge as their circularity is currently lagging versus other materials. However, their superior innovation potential is turning this threat into a great opportunity – on condition that the innovation focus is radically put on the circularity objective, and this by all circular stakeholders together.

The combined competencies needed for success are overwhelmingly available at several voluntary parties, but the required industry-wide cooperation framework is still very loose and informal, if not completely absent.

Another big challenge will be, to help consumers and regulators to overcome their fear and convince them that circular plastics don’t have to be inferior compared to virgin plastics, neither in terms of purity nor performance, even for high level applications.

The historical distance between the plastics recycling chain at one side and virgin plastics manufacturers at the other side has prevented recyclate to benefit from virgin polymer and process technologies – unlike what happened at successful circular commodity materials like paper and glass.

The resulting limitation of qualitative recyclate offering has on its turn a discouraging effect on recyclate demand for high level applications. In order to break and reverse this vicious circle, some high visibility examples will be required as a showcase.

What are you most looking forward to at the Sustainability in Packaging conference in Barcelona?      

The Sustainability in Packaging Conference is for TOTAL a great opportunity to bring innovative solutions to the table to let more plastic packaging materials fully participate to the Circular Economy.

Through our newly launched ‘Circular Compounds’, we are proud to show some of the possibilities that virgin polymer technology can bring to the table, demonstrating a new but essential role for the virgin plastics industry as ‘circularity enhancer’.

Finally, we want to inspire plastic packaging actors to start working together in ‘circular stakeholderships’ that ultimately will be in the driving seat of the Circular Economy.

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