Technological watch

Pathways towards circular plastics in Europe — good practice examples from countries, business and citizens

Key messages
  • Three pathways can lead to a more circular, sustainable plastics system: smarter use, increased circularity and renewable material. Good practice examples for each of these pathways have been found across Europe among business, policymakers and citizens. These good practice examples can serve as an inspiration for how to make plastics more sustainable and circular. 
  • Most good practice examples found are small scale and would need to be scaled up and implemented much more broadly to strengthen the circular plastics economy. More examples are found in waste management than in design, production or use. 
  • The pathways are not developing at the same pace. Increased circularity is the most developed, with several relatively large-scale good practise examples. Smarter use is emerging, with a growing number of good practice examples showing potential to be scaled up. Renewable material is the least developed, but many examples show high potential for further development.
  • Good practice examples of the smarter use pathway include reducing the use of unnecessary plastics through less packaging, fewer single-use products and, to a lesser extent, circular product design, extending product lifetimes and increasing reuse and repair.
  • Good practice examples of the increased circularity pathway focus on maintaining the value and utility of plastics in multiple loops through collection, sorting and recycling.
  • Good practice examples of the renewable material pathway include switching to renewable feedstocks to help eliminate the dependence of plastic production based on fossil fuels. However, it is important that renewable materials production is not in direct competition with food and feed production, and using biowaste should be prioritised over new biobased feedstocks.
Plastics pollution is found everywhere in the environment, even in remote places, as has been known for years. Recently, knowledge has increased about the negative impact of plastics on climate change, air pollution and human health. New pathways for plastics production and consumption are needed to increase circularity and sustainability in Europe and beyond. The three pathways discussed in this briefing are smarter use, increased circularity and renewable materials, for which good practice examples are found across Europe (EEA, 2020).

This briefing provides an overview of good practice examples of these pathways, including from policymakers, business and citizens. There is no ‘one solution fits all’ for circular and sustainable plastics. The examples provide inspiration, are scalable and can therefore help to build the foundations of an increasingly circular and sustainable plastics economy. This briefing is underpinned by a more detailed report prepared by the European Topic Centre on Circular Economy and Resource Use (ETC/CE).

Figure 1 shows how the good practice examples found for the three pathways address various life cycle steps and contribute to reduced environmental impacts.

Figure 1. Pathways towards sustainable and circular plastics

Publication date: 08/03/2023

Author: Marion Kupfer

Bio-based News


This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837761.