The Greek enterprises in this industry will be greatly affected by the changes implemented by the Community directive regarding the single-use plastics, as Mr. Vasilis Gounaris, president of the Association of Hellenic Plastic Industries, mentions at the insider.gr. As he points out, and in spite of what it is being said, not all single-use plastics will be abolished by 2021, while the companies comprising the Hellenic Plastic Industry are as flexible as the material they remake. He also reveals that we will be able to discuss the ways through which we can achieve the sustainable development during the presentation of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research’s study about the Plastic Industry that will take place on December 10, at “NCSR Dimokritos”.
To what extent will the Greek plastic enterprises be affected by the new Community directive regarding the single-use plastics?
They will be significantly affected. The directive 2019/904 regarding the single-use plastics was put in force in summer 2019 and by the chance that is given to me I would like to make some points clear, so that the readers can understand the true scale of this issue. Despite what it is being said, not all single-use plastics will be abolished by 2021. This will apply only in several cases while in others cases the appropriate measures will be taken in order to restrict their use, as the Directive requires. The Association of Hellenic Plastic Industries has already held some meetings at the Ministry of Environment and Energy regarding the consultation that follows in an attempt to ensure its members requests. We asked for provisions to be laid down in order to ensure the conditions for sustainable development of the companies operating in the industry of the single-use plastics, as well as not to be taken by surprise by the Ministry. Also, we asked for the diachronic weaknesses of our country regarding the waste management operations and infrastructures to be taken under serious consideration. The plastic waste is just a symptom of the pollution. As time goes by, it will become apparent that the Plastic Industry, with a leading role in the fields of innovation, energy efficiency, preservation of invaluable natural resources and having as non-negotiable principles the safety and health of the consumers, will decisively contribute to the creation of a more sustainable planet for all of us.
There will be some contributories regarding the enterprises of your industry in order for them to adjust to the new reality?
The companies that constitute the Hellenic Plastic Industry are as flexible as the materials they remake; plastic. Many of them made important investments before the vote in favour of this Directive. Today, as they are in an unstable economic environment in Greece, they try to survive by turning to other materials, which are compatible with the Directive. You know very well too, since Insider.gr covers news of economic interest, that the financial instruments in Greece are very limited. Several discussions have taken place with the competent bodies in order to create the foundations of support for these companies. Since summer, when the political leadership in Greece changed, the Association of Hellenic Plastic Industries tried fervently to correctly update the competent Ministers. We met the Minister of Development and Investments, Mr. Adonis Georgiadis, the State Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Akis Skertsos, General Secretaries of Ministries, such as Mr. Aravosis and Mr. Grafakos, in order to analytically present them the current situation in our country. I would like to believe that the necessary criteria will be developed in order to achieve the sustainable development of the companies that are business active in the industry of the single-use plastics. We will have the opportunity to discuss the ways through which we will achieve the sustainable development of the plastic industry in general during the presentation of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research’s study about the Plastic Industry that will take place on December 10, at “NCSR Dimokritos”. During that event, the overall impact that the industry has on the Greek economy will be presented as well as, of course, its development perspectives.
What is the position of the plastic companies in the circular economy today?
Plastic is the main material in order to achieve a more effective circular economy. This is not my personal point of view. It has been actually mentioned by the European Commission. Plastics constitute important materials that are widely used in the economy and our everyday life. The unique characteristics of plastic, being light and flexible make it the ideal material in supporting the transition from a linear to a circular economy. At this point, however, I would like to draw the readers’ attention to something important. The emblematic initiative of the European Commission regarding the adoption of circular economy will not be feasible, if the material we extract from the recycling bins is not as clean as possible. As I have mentioned above, in our country there are diachronic weaknesses regarding the waste management. There should be significant improvements in this field in order to achieve the vision of circular economy. The Association of Hellenic Plastic Industries with its own initiative, in the beginning of 2019, held a meeting at the Ministry of Environment and Energy with the Deputy Minister, Mr. Sokratis Famellos, in which the collection and recycling model that the Italian consortium “COREPLA” uses, was presented to the Minister. The meeting has been a benchmark in achieving the improvement of recycling and waste management, as that was the first time that the best practices adopted by Italy were presented in Greece and have been brought among the first places regarding recycling on European level. We are at the disposal of the current Minister to help in every way possible. We must definitely recognize the arrival of the brown bin for the organic wastes as a positive step towards recycling ,but this is not enough.
Do you believe that the problem of the imprudent use of plastic being presenting at its true scale or is it being demonised?
The problem and at the same time the challenge is the right waste management. A quite complex issue. Internationally, there is a tendency in describing the problem instead of searching for possible solutions. The waste resulting from the inappropriate use of a product that has been consumed, is one symptom of the problem. There are many factors that cause this problem. Inadequate infrastructure, the culture of product rejection, the lack of education regarding the material management are some of these factors. Consequently, we view the waste in a certain way, demonising materials such as plastic and unable to see the bigger picture; that is the numerous factors that cause the main problem, for which we should find appropriate solutions. Various scientific studies prove that the greater problem is hidden in some parts of Asia. In that regions, infrastructure is inadequate and the citizens have not been properly educated regarding the appropriate disposal of their waste. The company I represent, BASF, is one of the founding members of the “Alliance to End Plastic Waste”. Around 30 companies have been collecting the amount of approximately 1,5 billion EUR for five years, which will be channelled into investments in Asia for the construction of new infrastructures as well as in educational directed to the citizens in order to deal with the problem. On the one hand, we certainly want to prove how valuable plastic and should not be disposed and on the other hand, we want to make clear that releasing any kind of materials in the environment should not be allowed.
And how applicable is this Directive exactly?
The Association of Hellenic Plastic Industries will cooperate with the Ministry of Environment and Energy in order to align the European Directive with the Greek Law in the best way possible. The first meetings have already taken place, in quite positive atmosphere. The deadline given by the European Union expires in July 2021. We believe that with good will from all actors concerned, we can find mutually beneficial solutions in order for the Directive will be applied in the practice of the law.
Which are the industry’s perspectives in the light of the new reality?
The Plastic Industry is one of the most innovative fields in Europe. It is listed among the five most innovative industries and that fact alone ensures its development. Today, in the light of the above-mentioned significant challenges, the Plastic Industry is being reorganised and does what knows best, more than any other industry. It innovates!
The companies that constitute the Hellenic Plastic Industry are as flexible as the materials they remake.
In order for circular economy to be effectively adopted and to reach a zero -waste society as well as to ensure sustainable development for our companies and an auspicious future for our societies. In this context, I estimate that the perspectives of the Plastic Industry are positive with some reservations. These reservations derive from the fact that Greek economy is not yet that stable in order to create the basis for developments for its companies. All the enterprises that are business active in Greece and their employees surpass themselves to make everything work.
You are also the president of the Hellenic-German Chamber of Commerce. What do you think about the commercial relations of these two countries and what are the potentials for their improvement?
Germany has the greatest economy within the Eurozone and constitutes an important investment partner for Greece. The economic relations between the two countries are strong and still growing. Do not forget that German companies have made important investments in our country and at the same time Germany is the biggest market of the Greek tourist industry. At the Hellenic-German Chamber of Commerce, we try to make ourselves useful for the Greek companies that want to expand in Germany. The competitive advantage, aka the knowledge of the German market as well as the networking will help Greek enterprises succeed. During the last years there were many enterprise missions that have taken place in German and that were organised by the Hellenic-German Chamber of Commerce. We also organise enterprise meetings that include both Greek and German companies in order to promote cooperation. Recently, many Greek companies of the Plastic Industry participated in the biggest exhibition of our field, the “K 2019” which was held in Düsseldorf, Germany. At the Hellenic-German Chamber of Commerce, we are particularly active so that we can offer new opportunities at the enterprises that possess the will and the capability to do business in Germany, but also to bring German companies in Greece so that they can contribute to the development of the Greek economy.
What should a Greek company that wants to do business in Germany or cooperate with German companies take into consideration?
The company should initially ask for assistance from the Hellenic-German Chamber of Commerce. The know-how we possess will help the company to be successfully in transporting its product or service to the German market, setting in that way a new course for the Greek exports. We substantially support the enterprises that want to find opportunities, examine collaborations, proceed to communicating with institutions and sectors and we offer our know-how to the most open-minded enterprises. The product should also be competitive and attractive to the consumers or the company, as both are being familiarised with hundreds of similar products and services worldwide. I would like to recommend as a first step, however, to the enterprises that consider exporting to Germany, to contact the Hellenic-German Chamber of Commerce.
We look forward to the enactment of the fiscal bill that will take place soon. Do you think that it is heading towards the right direction?
Yes. I have the sense that the fiscal bill is heading towards the right direction. The reduction of the tax rate and the dividend tax rate constitutes a relief for the enterprises. This reduction will release the development resources. However, there should be an overall policy that will facilitate entrepreneurship in Greece. The lack of funding is a noose around the neck for numerous enterprises This is particularly the case for the small and medium-sized enterprises, which constitute the backbone of Greek entrepreneurship. The new government is on office just a few months and we are looking forward to making up the ground for the previous years.
What do you think should be done in order to achieve higher rates of growth in economy?
We should apply a new development model the basic pillars of which will be investments and exports. Additionally, we should significantly simplify the demands that are currently in force for an enterprise to do business in Greece. Also, there should be relief and incentives provided to the enterprises after several years of economic hardship. Last but not least, the current positive situation should be used as a pillar for future development. The reductions in tax rates is a decision that leads towards the right way. However, certain actions are required that will help unlocking the business model in Greece and will eventually lead to a more simple and solid Greek system.