04 September 2022

Investing in plastic’s circularity may generate economic and employment benefits

In 2020, the Italian plastics industry generated 45.8 billion euros in turnover (4.7% of total manufacturing), 12.7 billion euros in Value Added (5.1% of total manufacturing) and 19.9 billion of Euros in exports (4.9% of total manufacturing), employing around 180,000 people.

The transformation phase generates about 75% of the turnover, but it is the recycling phase that has the highest growth rates in all the considered indicators (turnover and Value Added). On the other hand, the bioplastics industry generated in 2021 about 1.1 billion Euros in revenues (2% of the industry as a whole), employing about 2,900 workers in about 275 companies, and qualifying itself as a European excellence.

For every 100 direct jobs in the sector, 177 additional jobs are generated, and for every 100 euros invested in the sector, 218 euros are generated in the extended value chain. The economic multiplier is therefore 3.18, a growth of 33% compared to the previous analysis made in 2013, thus showing an increase in the interdependencies of the plastics value chain with the economic fabric of the country.

At the European level, the EU is moving towards the development of a Circular Economy paradigm that also concerns the plastics sector and involves the valorisation of waste as a productive input. The Circular Economy Action Plan, adopted in March 2020, set targets for: 70% of packaging waste recycled, with different targets for individual materials (among which, 55% plastic) by 2030; 65% recycling of municipal waste by 2035; less than 10% of waste going to landfill, with a ban on recyclable waste, by 2035.

In line with EU legislation and with the intention of fully exploiting the potential of the circularity of plastics, we have adopted an original analysis approach, which extends the treatment of plastic waste to the integrated management of input, product/process and output phases. For each plastic life stage, we have identified the main areas of technological innovation and their impacts in terms of circularity.

Through this work, we have learned that product and process innovations contribute to 85% of the reduction of plastic waste by 2030, while thanks to the complementarity of mechanical and chemical recycling Italy can reach the target of 10% of waste going to landfill by 2030, 5 years ahead of what established by the European legislation.

The benefits for Italy of deploying the necessary investments to support the increased circularity of plastics amount to between 1.5 and 2.5 billion euros depending on the penetration level of chemical recycling.

All things considered, we have identified 7 lines of action to enhance circularity in the Italian plastics industry.

1. increase separate collection as an essential prerequisite for ensuring the circularity of the plastics value chain

2. speed up environmental authorisation procedures and reduce the 'NIMBY syndrome' to reduce the waste service divide

3. support the growth of the Italian bioplastics industry and encourage the increase of organic recycling for biodegradable plastics

4. encourage greater synergy between public and private actors to promote virtuous innovation processes in the plastics sector

5. review the current Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) mechanisms with the aim of simplifying processes and making the plastics value chain more circular

6. facilitate the creation of an outlet market for “End of Waste” materials

7. adopt an integrated value chain approach to increase the sharing of regulatory choices.

This Strategic Report was realised by The European House - Ambrosetti on behalf of the Partners of the initiative:

ASSOCIATIONS: Federchimica – PlasticsEurope Italia, Federazione Gomma Plastica – Unionplast, Associazione nazionale costruttori di macchine e stampi per materie plastiche e gomma – Amaplast, Associazione Italiana Polistirene Espanso – AIPE, Associazione Nazionale Poliuretano Espanso Rigido – ANPE, PVC Forum Italia


COMPANIES: Arkema, Basell Poliolefine Italia, BASF Italia, Borealis Italia, COIM, Covestro, Dow Italia, Ineos Italia, Radici Novacips, SABIC, Versalis

Download the Executive Summary of the research “The circularity of plastics: industrial opportunities, innovation and economic-occupational benefits for Italy” (in English)

Download the full paper (in Italian)