Plastic recyclers in Europe struggle to get enough plastic waste

EUROPE – Plastics recyclers in Europe are experiencing low sorted plastic waste availability, which the recycling sector is warning could slow down the transition toward a circular plastics economy in the EU.

Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE), an organization representing European plastics recyclers, is calling for investment in robust sorting and collection infrastructure to increase stable feedstocks for European recyclers.

The reduction in the plastic waste collection comes unexpectedly as for a few years the EU has been registering a decline in exports of waste while recyclers continued to upscale the installed capacities with a major, 60% growth in 4 years.

The Chinese ban and the strengthening of the controls in the context of the Basel Convention and OECD Decision on Transboundary Movements of Waste both enabled the continuous decrease of the exported waste from 3Mt in 2014 to 1Mt in 2021.

Despite these developments and regardless of the increase in the price of sorted material pushed by the growing prices of recycled materials, no substantial additional quantities of waste are being sent to recyclers today.

With 9Mt tons of plastic waste being collected for sorting, out of 30Mt in total, increasing the collection destined for recycling remains one of the key measures in Europe.

The remainder of the collected waste (21Mt)  is either incinerated or landfilled. Furthermore, the statistics demonstrate a 20Mt gap in the amount of waste that is generated versus what is put on the market.

Challenging these figures is critical to diverting recyclable plastic from landfills and incinerators, in order to create economies of scale for recycled polymers.

PRE calls for transparent reporting on waste generation, collection and sorting, so that missed quantities can be identified and recycled.

Recent EU policy and global developments have boosted massive investments in the plastic recycling capacities on the continent.

In 2020, the plastic recycling industry invested €1.5 billion (US$1.56 billion), which translates into 1.1 Mt additional installed capacity when compared to the previous year, and a total of €4.9 billion (US$5 billion) of investments since 2017,” explains Ton Emans, PRE’s President.

“However, without stable, high-quality input materials, the industry’s efforts to reach the new recycling targets might be hindered. Robust sorting and collection infrastructure is necessary to increase stable feedstocks for European recyclers,” conclude Emans.

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