Packaging recycling beyond the bottle

The plastic bottle is successfully recycled in most EU Member States. To further improve packaging recycling rates we need to continue to capture the full potential of the bottle and explore other content of the packaging stream.

Countries like Austria, Italy, Germany, Norway and Spain already collect – in addition to the bottle – rigid packaging such as trays, tubs and pots plus some film. Improvements in sorting and washing technologies, emerging markets for recyclate and potential business opportunities drive Member States to explore this stream - often referred to as “Mixed Plastics”.

An EPRO working group is focussing on Mixed Plastics by studying existing systems and carrying out industrial tests to assess feasibility, cost effectiveness and environmental benefits of the different end-of-life options. In the UK WRAP - the Waste Resource Action Programme – has run an initial study and is now taking this to full scale validation. The learning from exploring the recycling of Mixed Plastics is that:

Input needs to be sorted to high level of purity per plastic type.

Recyclate needs to replace virgin polymer in the next application.

Well defined end markets for each recyclate stream need to be developed.

Only part of the input stream can be turned into recyclate with the balance better used for energy recovery. Percentages depend on quality and consistency of input stream.

Additional learning will become available over the next few years as Member States explore this recycling opportunity.

Corepla - the National Consortium for the Collection, Recovery and Recycling of Plastic Packaging Waste - has been set up to guarantee recycling and recovery of packaging waste.

In 2 002 household collection in Italy was enlarged from bottles-only to all plastic packaging waste. Since then Corepla has created value for bottles and film with the result that in the year 2 007 of more than 2 00.000 tonnes of bottles and around 50.000 tonnes of film were sold through web-based auctions with a revenue of more than d 40 million.

In 2 007 mixed plastics packaging represented more than 35% of the whole household collection with 40% being recycled and the rest used for energy recovery. Corepla is focused on creating even more value for mixed plastics fractions through automatic sorting (for increased efficiency) and analysis of end-use markets in order to find high-value applications.