EU plastics collection up, but steeper goals may loom

EU plastics collection up, but steeper goals may loom

By Bobby Elliott, Resource Recycling

The latest data on plastics recycling in Europe suggests that activity continued to pick up in 2012, but questions remain as to how the region will adjust to a potential tightening of goals.

According to “Plastics — the Facts 2013,” released Dec. 20 by an alliance of European plastics groups, 27 EU member countries and two non-EU countries, Norway and Switzerland, recycled 26.3 percent of their combined plastic in 2012. An additional 35.6 percent of plastics went toward energy recovery while the remaining 38.1 percent was landfilled.

On the whole, collection of plastics was up in 2012, yet Peter Sundt of the European Association of Plastics Recycling & Recovery Organizations (EPRO) explained to Plastics Recycling Update that a large degree of uncertainty exists when it comes to plastics collection goals going forward. While countries vary in collection goals, Sundt said most EU member countries are awaiting a decision by the EU in 2014 that could require more stringent goals across the board.

EPRO was one of the European organizations that helped compile the latest recycling figures.

Several member countries, Sundt added, already have a landfill ban in place for 2020, which will require countries to collect all plastic waste for either recycling or energy recovery. If all EU member countries were asked to meet a similar ban, at its current pace plastic landfilling would disappear by 2037 — 17 years after 2020. Sundt stopped short of supporting such a measure, but ceded "we are not against this measure," vowing to continue to support extended producer responsibility laws throughout the EU.

According to the study, some 27.8 million tons of plastic entered the waste stream in 2012, with 7.3 million tons of the material recycled and 9.8 million tons used for energy recovery. Roughly 10.7 million tons of plastic were disposed of, or landfilled, in 2012.

Compared with 2011, recovery was up roughly 4 percent in 2012 while landfilling fell 5.5 percent, although the study stresses that "figures cannot always be directly compared with those of previous years due to changes in estimates."

Plastic packaging dominated the waste stream, accounting for 82 percent of recycled plastics and 62.2 percent of plastic waste. Malta was the only EU member country that failed to reach a minimum packaging recycling rate of 22.5 percent.

Despite these gains in plastics collection for either recycling or energy recovery, the study points out that "there is room for improvement and further action." A two-pronged approach of recycling and energy recovery is recommended by the plastics groups responsible for the study. "Recycling and energy recovery are complementary and necessary to achieve the zero plastics to landfill by 2020 goal," the study states and lobbies for further "measures" to be established to help divert the material.

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