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Beyond single-use plastic: a new era for European businesses is within reach

With a true concept night, Rethink Plastic took participants into the future to explore the opportunities of a post-single-use plastic society

By Roberta Arbinolo

On March 27th, Rethink Plastic hosted its second talk show in Brussels, in a museum-like environment taking visitors straight into a plastic-free future.

Following the success of its November edition on plastic waste exports, Rethink Plastic struck again with a true concept night, this time looking at how the EU can legislate on single-use plastics and enter a new business era. The discussion was a perfect occasion to address the impact of EU legislation on plastics on the European economy and job market. The event was moderated by Green Exchange.

A diverse panel of speakers including entrepreneurs, innovators, policy makers and campaigners came together to discuss a new perspective. The outcome? Alternative solutions exist; new economic models are already proving successful, moving away from the corporate products monopolies – that are packaging intensive – back to more local and resilient economies based on services and short supply chains; and EU policy have a role to play.

The discussion took place in a venue staged as a fictive museum of the future, exhibiting wasteful products used in the early 21st century – a time when societies were using excessive amounts of single-use plastics.

Taking a tour of the venue you could learn about “Legacy of the EU Commission 2014 -2019”, “The ten most littered items in 2017” or how those products of the past were successfully replaced by new designs and services that better fitted the “smart lifestyle”.

In the first session, new generation entrepreneurs from retail sector showcased successful experiences disrupting traditional supply chains and packaging practices.

Celia Rennesson presented Reseau Vrac, a structured network that supports package free shops in France.

Marek Havrda introduced MIWA, a Czech company delivering groceries without single-use plastic, and recent winner of the innovation prize “Circular Design Challenge” by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Jan Berbee told the story of RePack, a reusable packaging solution for e-commerce. Apparently, this one is a story about love.

The second session showcased best practices that are already transforming local economies through services and smart lifestyles.

Safia Qureshi presented CupClub, a returnable cup ecosystem aiming to “replace the 100 billion single-use cups and lids used every year”.

Sanderine van Odijk, Senior Venture Builder at Enviu, explained how “building impact ventures as positive and scalable examples of change will allow to break the current patterns of linear consumption and move to a circular and inclusive economy”.

Zero Waste Europe’s Director Joan Marc Simon told the story of Lavanda, an Italian cooperative offering a washing and rental service for ecological, washable and reusable nappies.

Alexandre Garcin, Deputy Mayor of the French city of Roubaix, illustrated how the transition towards zero waste is benefiting the local economy.

The third and last session focused on the role EU policy can play in preparing the business sector for the post-single-use plastic era.

Zero Waste Europe’s Ariadna Rodrigo highlighted how, although many business alternatives to single-use plastic are already available, the legislative framework and the economic incentives are not in place yet to allow them to compete with the existing wasteful business models.

Member of the European Parliament Heidi Hautala stressed the importance for EU institutions and Member States to take ambitious legislative action, and supported the idea of economic incentives as well as bans on a range of wasteful single-use products.

Grzegorz Radziejewski, Advisor to the Commission’s Vice President Jyrki Katainen, ackowledged the success of the plastic bag directive, which should inspire the upcoming legislation on single-use plastic, and stressed the importance of backing the legislative proposal with solid data.

Delphine Lévi Alvarès, coordinator of the Rethink Plastic alliance, concluded by calling for an ambitious legal framework to allow the existing virtuous solutions to go mainstream and cross-sectoral.

Change really is within reach, and the transition to a post-single-use plastic era can bring new jobs and a thriving economy. Whether the EU will seize the opportunity, will depend on the vision its decision-makers will adopt as early as this spring, when tabling their legislative proposal, together with the right investment vehicles and economic incentives, needless to say.

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