Plastics pack recycling "to miss EU target"

Mechanical recycling potential limited, greater feedstock recycling required, says APME

An EU target for plastics packaging recycling by 2001 may not be met unless greater efforts are made to expand feedstock - or chemical - recycling, according to a report published yesterday by the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME).

Prepared by two independent research organisations, the study estimates that mechanical recycling of all types of plastics waste in western Europe has the "potential" to reach 2.1m tonnes, or 9.9% of consumption, in 2001 and 2.7m tonnes, or 10.6% of consumption, in 2006. In contrast, a study produced for the European Commission in 1996 concluded that between 14% and 16.4% of plastics could be mechanically recycled in 2000, rising to just under 18% in the period 2005-10.

The APME commissioned the study to influence debate in the EU over legislative targets for increasing plastics waste recycling, especially for plastics packaging, which accounts for about 60% of all plastics waste. The 1994 EU packaging directive sets a target for plastics packaging recycling of 15% by 2001. This is only marginally above the new study's estimate of the western European potential of 14.8% by 2001, but the APME claims there are "significant barriers" to achieving the target.

Chief amongst these, according to the study, is an imbalance between the technical potential for collecting waste and potential end-markets for it. There is "an upper limit to potential demand for recycled plastics," the report concludes, for example because recycled plastics are not suitable for food contact applications. Once countries currently importing recycled plastic granulate begin producing it in greater quantities "saturation may quickly be achieved," the APME says.

The study also sharpens the battle lines over post-2001 recycling targets for plastics packaging waste, which are supposed to be defined in 2000. The European Commission is likely to want a significant increase in the recycling target by 2005 over the 15% target for 2001, but the APME's study estimates potential mechanical recycling in 2006 of just 15.4%.

Any "shortfall" in European plastics recycling, the APME says, will need to be made up by increasing the contribution of feedstock recycling, in which waste plastics are turned back into basic chemicals. Only 16% of all plastics recycling is currently achieved through this route, but the proportion is growing, according to the association.

Commenting on the report, Neil Mayne of the APME, said that the industry would continue to promote increased plastics recycling. Efforts to increase mechanical recycling should be focused on key sectors, such as agricultural and distribution film where pure waste streams were available, he said. Feedstock recycling "must be embraced" for other sectors, such as mixed plastics waste, and would have "an important role to play as we work to meet EU packaging waste recycling targets".

Follow Up:
APME, tel: +32 2 675 3297.

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