Trends in recycling

Crates and pallets are two streams where recycling is well above 90%. This successful “closed loop” is threatened by changes in the EU legislation linked to the heavy metal content of these products. Without the derogation extension to continue to recycle and keep the heavy metals safely in the plastic a huge quantity of recyclable plastics could be obsolete. Industry is working towards a controlled scheme to monitor the renewal of the derogation.

In addition countries like the UK are seeking increased recycling from the mixed plastics stream (i.e. the household plastics stream excluding bottles). The plastics industry is engaged in this initiative and supports extended ecoefficient recycling. However infrastructure and demography varies across Member States, and therefore solutions will not be the same in different countries. For example Austria and the Netherlands have taken the opposite decision to the UK and decided not to collect mixed plastics but instead to recover this stream through energy recovery.

A packaging application with a good recycling track record is the plastic bottle. Such bottles can be made of PET, PE, PP or PVC. 43% of all used PET bottles were collected for recycling in 2 007. This amounts to 1 .2 million tonnes/year. The EU27+NO/CH countries demonstrate huge variations, from below 1 0% for some countries to nearly 70% for countries such as Austria or Belgium based on no deposit system. In countries with deposit systems recycling rates of over 90% are being achieved. If the performance of e.g. Belgium could be matched, then the potential exists to increase recycling by about 1 million tonnes/y across
EU27+Norway and Switzerland. The system in Belgium is based on co collection of bottles, metal containers and drink cartons. Bottles are separated out in sorting plants.

Recyclers then reprocess the separated plastics. As the quantity of recycled bottles increases, the traditional markets for reprocessed material, fibre and strapping, become saturated. Work is underway in a number of countries to close the bottle loop i.e. to use the reprocessed PET and HDPE for new bottles and also for food applications.

This bottle- to-bottle recycling will open up a big market for recyclates if the requirements for e.g. food approval can be met. EFSA – the European Food Safety Agency - has published guidelines for applicants for the safety evaluation of recycled plastics to be used in contact with food. The new European regulation on plastics (EC 2 82/2008) requires that recycled plastics used in contact with food should only be obtained from processes which have been assessed for safety by EFSA.