Driving a circular economy with recycled plastic certification
Plastic is an important material in today’s world, providing safe and cost-effective solutions in many sectors, from medical to food. But it’s also having a detrimental impact on the environment: already at 460 million tons a year, our consumption of plastic is increasing, and it’s expected to triple by 2060. About 85 percent of this becomes waste that is disposed in landfill, incinerated or dropped as litter, resulting in the pollution of ecosystems, on land and in the oceans.
According to a European Investment Bank report, Cutting plastics pollution: Financial measures for a more circular value chain, the biggest contributor to the problem is plastic packaging. Recycling is a key element in the effort to reduce plastic waste, and a growing number of regulations around the world are putting pressure on manufacturers to prove they are using recycled plastic.
“Plastic is not so easy to replace, and also for the reason that I think that recycling will improve more and more,” said Giordano Marini, Recycling Product Manager and Scheme Manager at Kiwa Cermet Italia.
We continue to see developments in the technology behind waste sorting and recycling, driving our move to a more circular economy. But in order for recycling to be effective, safe and economically viable, we need trust: stakeholders throughout the value chain need to understand where the input plastic waste came from and how it is used to make new products. For this, certification is vital.
At Kiwa, we have been working with a number of recycling certification standards in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain to help provide the traceability needed to reduce the negative impacts of plastic waste. Now, the recent accreditation of Kiwa-IVAC in Spain for three plastic recycling schemes means we can support clients with an even broader range of services.
Regulations for reuse and recycling
The plastic product circular economy reached a milestone in 2022, with a resolution passing at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly to “address the full life cycle of plastic, a holistic approach necessary to tackle the growing plastic pollution crisis.” The resolution seeks to develop legally binding requirements for a circular approach to plastics.
In Europe, regulation is already changing the way manufacturers approach this material, particularly for packaging. The European plastics strategy has set a recycling target of 50% by 2025 for plastic packaging. And by 2030, all of Europe’s plastic packaging has to be reusable or recyclable.
Enforcement is passed down to EU Member States, and countries are taking various approaches, including through tax. For example, in Spain, packaging manufacturers have to pay 45 cents of tax per kilogram of plastic sold, and this amount reduces as the percentage of recycled plastic in the packaging increases. The more recycled plastic used in the product, the less tax they have to pay.
A similar tax is expected in Italy too. “This plastic tax is not applied if production is done with recycled material, and this really can help the economy but also the environment,” Giordano said. “In this way, the manufacturer is pushed to make products with a higher percentage of recycled content.”
Growing demand for certification
As a consequence of regulatory efforts to increase recycling, manufacturers are increasingly requesting certification of the recycled content percentage of their products. To understand the role of certification and traceability, it’s important to think about the plastic recycling process.
First, plastic waste is collected from domestic, agricultural or industrial sources. The origin of the plastic is important because certain plastics, particularly industrial, can be toxic, which means they cannot be used in food or medical packaging. Recyclers then process the waste plastic into pellets or flakes, which transformers turn into products. These products are subject to EU rules and the plastic tax in Spain, for example.
“The producers in Spain who buy plastics from other countries are demanding this certification from their suppliers,” said Jose Vicente Zaragozà, Technical Manager at Kiwa-IVAC in Spain. “We have had requests from companies in Mexico, Chile, Morocco, Algeria, Ukraine and many other countries.”
To remain compliant with regulations and reduce their product taxes, companies need to prove two things: the origin of the recycled plastic in their products, and the percentage of recycled content in the materials used. By certifying these factors, companies not only provide the proof that they meet requirements, but also build trust with customers, who are increasingly concerned about plastic pollution.
Creating trust throughout the recycled plastic value chain
Kiwa offers certification to the most important standards in plastic recycling, namely EuCertPlast, RecyClass and Plastica Seconda Vita. Collectively, they cover the different stages of plastic recycling and manufacture, EuCertPlast certification for plastics recyclers is about proven origin and traceability.
“We study the recyclers of the waste – the organizations that transform this waste into pellets or flakes of plastic that manufacturers can use,” said Jose. “We try to investigate the origin of the plastic waste by looking at documents to see if the plastic came from industrial, agricultural or domestic sources.”
Plastica Seconda Vita and RecyClass are broader schemes – they cover traceability and the percentage and origin of recycled content for both recyclers and converters. The schemes are accredited by ISO 17065 and PSV and recognized by Polycert Europe, the Technical Board of which Giordano at Kiwa Cermet Italia is a member.
“In this type of audit, we evaluate the mass balance and the recipe for each product, which involves the auditor verifying all the records,” Giordano explained. “There must be coherence between the values – it's not possible to say a product has 90% recycled content when you have a product recipe that says 50%.”
By starting from the input waste and covering the process all the way to the product, certification to these schemes supports compliance and helps build trust in all organizations in the supply chain. And it has a more tangible impact too, according to Giordano.
“The problem is not the plastic itself but mainly the correct disposal and recycling of the plastic, because plastic is a material that can be recovered continuously. If done correctly, this type of certification can really help the environment. As an environmental engineer and as someone who is responsible for this, I consider it my responsibility to have competence in working with these aspects.”
New Kiwa certification schemes for plastic recycling
In addition to working with existing schemes, Kiwa also recently launched two new certifications in plastics recycling. Jose was working with Almudena Francés Micó and Saray Velasco Sánchez in the technical department of IVAC, and when Kiwa acquired the company in late 2021, they brought two schemes that were in development.
“We know this is an important business for the future because plastic is a problem for society,” Jose said. Jose and the team worked with various organizations, including Entidad Nacional de Acreditación (ENAC), the national accreditation body in Spain, and Plastics Recyclers Europe, the scheme owner of RecyClass. The result of the collaborations is proprietary schemes under the umbrella of KiPlas – Kiwa plastics.
“Kiwa has two schemes: one for traceability, which is for recyclers, and one for content percentage, which is for transformers,” said Almudena. “We now have ENAC accreditation for these two schemes, along with our new RecyClass accreditation.”
As product certifications, the schemes fall under Product Certification Bodies Accreditation ISO/IEC 17065. In March 2023, Kiwa-IVAC Spain received this accreditation for RecyClass, in addition to the two new proprietary Kiwa schemes:
- KiPlas-C – PR.C. Contenido en plástico reciclado (PPR-01 versión 2) – Recycled content in plastic products
- KiPlas-T – PR.T. Trazabilidad en el proceso de reciclado de plásticos (PPR-01 versión 2) – Traceability in the plastics recycling process
Their work doesn’t stop now: Jose and the team are developing a scheme for recyclability, to determine if the plastic can be recycled, and another scheme for reuse. “It’s best to reuse, as this requires no additional energy,” he explained. “If products reach the end of their life, it’s a waste problem, but if we say they can be reused, it’s a second life for the products.”
Are you working with plastic waste or recycled plastic products? Kiwa can help you provide the evidence you need to build trust. Read about our services for recycling and contact us for more information.