Next generation Europe should be green and circularSam
By Nicholas Hodac, UNESDA Director General
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the essential nature of Europe’s food and drink industry into sharp focus. Despite the challenges of lockdowns and border closures over recent months, the sector has managed to maintain supply and ensure that the EU’s 450 million citizens continue to be fed and refreshed. Europe’s non-alcoholic beverages sector is a local industry, working with local suppliers, farmers and bottling plants, and we have many thousands of people to thank for making sure that our production and supply continues to be maintained.
As we look to the future, it is clear that Europe now stands at a crossroads. In rebuilding the European economy the EU has the opportunity to create a real growth strategy that will support the competitiveness of companies right across the block. This also includes building back our economy and society in a way that is better suited to a circular economy.
While the situation remains challenging, we are encouraged by recent developments in many markets around Europe and the re-opening of some of the most important channels for our sector, including restaurants, cafés and hotels. The health of our own workers, those in our supply chain and of our customers, remains the highest priority for our industry. Reasonable and proportionate measures must be set in place to enable economic exchanges and allow a phased re-opening of our economies that ensures the safety of all parties involved.
As companies take their first steps along the road to recovery it is important that policymakers take time to assess the collective impact of any proposed actions in order to avoid making business uncompetitive and impeding recovery.
This doesn’t mean that the EU’s Green Deal targets in the Circular Economy Action Plan and Farm-to-Fork should change, but rather that the right framework needs to be created to support industry in achieving them. The situation created by the pandemic requires both consistency and adaptation from EU policymakers: consistency for the green growth agenda to be maintained and stimulated to the highest possible level; adaptation because we must support those EU businesses hit by the crisis.
Long-term legal certainty that investments in packaging circularity will be recognised will allow Europe’s soft drinks industry to continue to be both competitive and sustainable. A strong and efficient packaging collection, recycling and sorting infrastructure is a prerequisite for Europe to achieve its ambitious Circular Economy targets and stimulate increased use of recycled content. As we recover from the COVID-19 economic fallout, EU Recovery Funds have the opportunity to support the green transition by immediately funding investments in waste collection schemes, recycling innovation and green infrastructures.
Achieving full circularity requires a clear, pan-European policy framework that avoids sending contradictory signals. With this our sector can be confident to move ahead and invest in improving the environmental footprint of its products, developing sustainable packaging and conducting low-carbon operations across the continent.