PVC feedstock recycling "too expensive"

Fourth EU study predicts chemical methods likely to handle only 5% of waste by 2010

Feedstock recycling of PVC - and other plastics waste - will not become viable without substantial financial and legislative support, according to a new study for the European Commission. The report says the treatment method is too expensive and will only handle 5% of the EU's PVC waste by 2010 unless vigorously promoted. Mechanical recycling is a better environmental waste treatment option in any case, it adds.

The finding that PVC feedstock recycling is far from being an economic proposition come as a further blow to the PVC industry's efforts to avoid future EU restrictions on the plastic. Three reports released last week said mechanical recycling would not be able to handle more than 18% of the EU's PVC waste and that incineration and landfilling - currently the main disposal routes for PVC - posed serious environmental risks (ENDS Daily 14 April). The reports will form the basis of a future EU strategy on PVC.

Feedstock recycling of plastics generally consists of either chemically recycling polymers into their monomers for use in new plastics, or using them as reducing agents in blast furnaces and cement kilns. The profile of feedstock recycling has risen as the deadline for revising the EU's 1994 packaging directive has approached. The European Commission says feedstock methods are environmentally inferior to mechanical recycling while industry argues the opposite (ENDS Daily 14 December 1999).

Though commissioned from independent consultants to analyse the role of feedstock recycling in PVC waste management, the study draws conclusions applicable to both PVC-rich waste and mixed plastic waste such as packaging. Besides ruling in favour of the Commission in the dispute over the environmental effects of packaging recycling, the report shows that the cost of chemically recycling mixed plastic waste, at euros 500 per tonne, is twice that of landfilling.

Recycling waste in furnaces is slightly cheaper, while in cement kilns it costs around euros 305 per tonne, marginally less than the cost for incineration. Both methods have a lower environmental impact than incineration or landfilling, but the study says they will not be able to deal with the expected huge volumes of future PVC waste since they can only accept up to 3% PVC. For PVC-rich waste streams, which make up the bulk of PVC waste, the cost of chemical recycling is euros 390 per tonne. This compares with euros 250 for mechanical recycling, although costs can be as low as euros 50, the report says.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; see also the study.

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