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Thomas: Data is the missing link in EU circular economy

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Photo by Patrick Raleigh Covestro's Patrick Thomas (left) addresses the media at K2016

DUESSELDORF, Germany—The European Commission will require accurate and reliable data if it is to have any chance of reaching the step-change in resource efficiency targeted by its circular economy policy, according to Patrick Thomas, president of European plastics manufacturers association PlasticsEurope and CEO of Covestro.

Speaking at a PlasticsEurope forum during K2016, Thomas said the first information material to come out on the circular economy contained “a lot of numbers, which were pretty much guesswork: sometimes informed sometimes uninformed.”

And, he argued, if European policy makers do not base their decisions on facts and engage properly with industry, they will end up with data that is not real and, indeed, open to ridicule.

For example, Thomas pointed to the European Union automotive end of life vehicle (ELV) legislation. This, he said, was a good policy framework for labelling, design-for-assembly, segregation of different types of polymer and the ability to identify sources of the polymers and how they can be recycled.

“But, then, what we have actually discovered was that less than half of the vehicles in Europe are captured in any statistic at all. We don’t know what happens to the other half of the vehicles,” said the Covestro boss. “The automotive industry just doesn’t know where those vehicles go.

"So (the ELV legislation) as such was a great piece of policy but without an accurate understanding of how industries work, you cannot design a framework that can be implemented.”

But, said Thomas, while the ELV legislation had “essentially failed” in terms of output and results, it did offer crucial lessons for the introduction of the EC circular economy policy, and the role that industry should play in this.

Concluding on an upbeat note, Thomas said: “I am pleased to say that we are [now] being actively engaged in the process and in making sure the future (EC) policy is based on an understanding of the numbers, accurate data and of industry and how it functions.”