Plastic recyclers in Europe struggle to get enough waste

Plastic recyclers in Europe…

What happens with the collected plastic waste? Low available volumes of sorted plastic waste are negatively impacting the operations of plastics recyclers across Europe creating an obstacle to achieving the EU targets.

"This situation could slow down the transition towards a full plastic circularity" said Ton Emans, PRE President. "The recent EU policy and global developments have boosted massive investments in the plastic recycling capacities on the continent as in 2020 the plastic recycling industry invested 1.5 bn euros which translates into 1.1 Mt additional installed capacity when compared to the previous year and a total of 4.9 bn euros of investments since 2017. However, without stable, high-quality input materials the industry’s efforts to reach the new recycling targets might be slowed down. Robust sorting and collection infrastructure is a must to increase stable feedstocks for European recyclers", he added.

This comes unexpectedly as for a few years Europe has been registering a decline in exports of plastic 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 3 Mt in 2014 to 1 Mt 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 9 Mt tons of plastic waste being collected for sorting, out of 30 Mt in total, increasing the collection of plastic waste destined for recycling remains one of the key measures in Europe. The remainder of the collected waste - 21 Mt - is either incinerated or landfilled. Furthermore, the statistics demonstrate a 20 Mt gap in the amount of waste that is generated versus what is put on the market.

Challenging these figures, therefore, remains primordial to create economies of scale for recycled polymers and to divert recyclable plastic from landfills and incinerators. PRE calls for transparent reporting on the waste collection & generation to allow mapping of the missed quantities to improve their management at the end of their use phase.