2022-11-11"Plastic Has Been Blamed As A Scapegoat While There Is No Adequate Alternative"
As of the second half of this year, the sale of certain single-use plastic products and products made from oxidatively degradable plastic is prohibited in Hungary. How did the ban affect the players in the plastics industry? How do consumers respond to the question? What machine-related developments can help domestic companies to manufacture products that comply with the new regulations? We went over the topic with Máté Konkoly-Thege, the managing director of Thege-Plastic Kft., which deals in the trade of plastic machinery and industrial robots.
How did the ban affect the plastics industry?
It is also worth examining the issue from the perspective of the regulatory environment and the market. From the manufacturer and regulatory side, I can say that although the government ordered a ban on the marketing of a number of single-use and certain other plastic products, and the transition was announced in advance, the negotiations with the organizations did not yield an acceptable result for the profession. The background to the ban is that in May 2019, the European Union's General Affairs Council officially accepted the ban on single-use plastics. According to the new regulations, the use of disposable plastic products that can be replaced with alternative products is prohibited. The Hungarian legislature adopted this very strict EU directive one by one. The transition in the neighboring countries was longer and more scheduled, moreover, it was possible to better take into account the interests of the profession and provide them with the necessary transition. The Hungarian market players have received so much relief that they can still use up their stock.
The question is, for example, how will the manufacturer, which supplied plastic products to healthcare facilities before the regulation, be able to sell them at the same price, since part of the buyer's market has been eliminated, and the utilization of its production capacity has become much lower.
According to the news published on the kormany.hu website, "...the environmental protection product price for traditional plastic bags will be increased from the current HUF 57 per kilogram to HUF 1,900 per kilogram. Thus, the environmental protection fee will increase to an average of five forints per bag, with which I would like to encourage economical use. We encouraged the manufacturers involved in the technological transition in 2020 with tender assistance of 10 billion." What are the solutions for tender grants?
Pursuant to the government decree, it is forbidden to put on the market plastic ear cleaning sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, drink stirrers, sticks to be attached to and hold balloons, food containers made of expanded polystyrene, drink containers, glasses. And indeed, the decree also covers the placing on the market of light plastic carrier bags, commonly known as "bags", with a wall thickness of 15 microns and above. The exceptions to this are products made of biodegradable plastic and very light plastic carrier bags. The latter include pouches with a wall thickness of less than 15 microns and whose use is mainly for hygiene purposes, but they are also used for the primary packaging of bulk food in cases where it helps prevent food waste.
It should be known that the film sector, such as manufacturers of agricultural and other packaging, vacuum filmers or companies dealing with the packaging of intermediate pieces, use an extremely large amount of plastic, yet less is said about it. In some respects, these areas of use are put under the same umbrella as the plastic bags displayed in the public sense, which is not practical. I think that sooner or later, manufacturers will be forced to pass on their additional costs to consumers. Even a grant of 10 billion won't be able to remedy this, since the problem is much more complex than that.
But there is also the "Green National Champions - Support for technological development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises operating in the green economy" application, which was also invented specifically to help the manufacturer side, but in this case we are also talking about an opportunity from last year, while the prohibitive law from this year.
Therefore, on the regulatory side, additional funds are generated, which are used for good things, for placing selective bins, improving the system or for tender funds, but this makes even more of us lack forward thinking. I hope we can change this over time.
What do you experience on the consumer side?
Companies must not only make their own operations more environmentally conscious, but also encourage their customers to think responsibly. All this while, in my opinion, it is not the plastic that is to blame, but the person who uses it badly.
The area that affects us all the most in this regard is food packaging materials, which are usually made of plastic, precisely because there was not enough of certain materials, such as aluminum, to address a previously existing problem of environmental impact, so plastic became the right alternative. The food industry is facing a big challenge. The European Union has been advocating for a long time the new regulation of product packaging regulations, and as they come into being, they will certainly be introduced in the Hungarian market as well.
For consumers who are reluctant to use plastic, there have been alternatives. Just think of the textile bag! However, we must know that more water is needed to produce them, as for plastic bags, not to mention cellulose. Just as the biodegradable plastic bags sold in more and more places also have raw materials, so it is always necessary to buy them from somewhere. In addition, these cannot be composted either, at least under home conditions. Many people are calling for manufacturers to return to glass bottles instead of PET. However, they do not know that the same capacity could not be met for sure, nor that the environmental impact of a bottle is greater than that of plastic if they are collected and recycled. I think plastic has been called a scapegoat, while there is currently no suitable alternative.
In a previous interview, he said that although there are promising developments, the breakthrough must happen sooner or later, but they will not be able to replace the endlessly wide palette that plastics offer in the packaging industry, the automotive industry, or the construction industry. .
I absolutely stand by my statement. Plastic is a great material and has many good uses. In certain areas, such as the health sector, we would not be able to replace it with anything. Rather, something should be done with plastics that satisfy comfort needs. To do this, we all need to take action together. As long as we wish for a spectacular change, but drink our morning coffee from a plastic cup, there will be no progress, only loud words.
What machine-related developments can help domestic companies to manufacture products that comply with the new regulations?
The partners of Thege-Plastic Kft. pay special attention to energy saving during the entire production process. Technological development is also a big help in this. Of course, in order for everyone to be able to replace their fleet with an environmentally friendly alternative, the prices had to be favorable, but today this is not an obstacle either. In addition to European machine manufacturers, we also offer cheaper Chinese or more expensive Japanese machines. The Far East is ahead of the European market in many respects, this is especially true for grinding machines, which are extremely important in terms of scrap processing and extrusion. In Hungary, we are talking about a relatively large market, more and more people are putting machine lines into operation to regranulate. But almost all manufacturers, such as Shanghai's Jwell represented by Thege-Plastic Kft., as well as Japan's JSW, have dedicated machines for the production of degradable plastics.
Currently, the components of recycled plastics are not regulated or standardized. Why would it be important to change the current practice?
When a manufacturer buys recycled material from abroad, he does not necessarily know whether he will receive exactly the raw material he requested, but it is also possible that he will be delivered contaminated goods. These may seem like small things, but they can also determine whether someone uses regranulate or not. Regulation exists for virgin raw materials, a similar one would be needed for regranulated plastics as well. I trust that this pan-European demand will be able to create a system for categorizing recycled plastics that spans national borders.
The article was originally published on the ProfitLine website, thank you for the interview!