The European plastics industry has set an ambitious target: the total elimination of plastics waste going to landfill by 2020. PlasticsEurope, with the support of other representative bodies, declared the industry's intent last year when it called for a Europe-wide landfill ban.
Wilfried Haensel, executive director of PlasticsEurope, said: "Eliminating landfill in all European countries is far from being an unrealistic goal. Frontrunner countries have reduced landfilling of plastics waste to almost zero, with significant environmental benefits."
Europe's combined rate of recycling and energy recovery from plastics waste in 2010 was 58%. There is a significant way to go to reach the target rate of 100%, and this prompts some questions: How will the goal be achieved? How do you overcome obstacles such as the widely different rates in European countries?
Ton Emans, recently elected as president of EuPR, the Brussels-based plastics recycling organisation, said in response to European Plastics News queries: "This target is ambitious but can be achieved with appropriate changes in waste management.
"For instance, we should have harmonised policies across Europe and should generate well separated streams in order to have quality input for plastics recyclers. These important changes will permit the growth of Europe's resource efficiency, create a substantial number of jobs and reduce CO2 emissions thanks to the reuse of recycled plastics."
There has been a historical lag between the best and worst European countries for plastics recycling and recovery. There has been improvement in the past two years, and the rate increased from 54% in 2009 to 58% in 2010.
In packaging, figures for 2010 released by the European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations (EPRO) showed that 16 nations recycled more than 30% of its plastic packaging waste in 2010. But Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and Malta were still lagging with rates below 22%.
Harmonisation and better enforcement of EU waste directives would close the gap. PlasticsEurope is calling upon policy-makers in all countries to support better waste structures that replicate the success of Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Austria, where significant landfill restrictions have been put in place.
As well as policy, there are obstacles in the recycling industry that need to be overcome. Jan-Erik Johansson, PlasticsEurope's resource efficiency programme director, says there are challenges in various areas. There should be a drive towards collecting all plastics for recycling and recovery. At the reprocessing stage, a focus on quality would help to target used plastics into the right applications. End use markets for recycled products also need to be developed.
Johansson said that in the tough economic and financial climate, support needs to be given by governments and institutions to stimulate further recycling and recovery.
"A common roadblock is access to financing for the infrastructure needed to capture the value in the plastics which is currently disposed in landfill - estimated to be Û8bn per year for the EU27 plus Norway and Switzerland," he said.
There is clearly a lot of work to be done between now and 2020. Knowledge transfer is an important tool, and PlasticsEurope runs a project with the plastics industries in France, Poland, Spain and the UK with the objective of accelerating recovery improvement.
Reaching the 2020 target will be a tough job. But the success of the Vinyl 2010 programme shows that cross-border efforts in plastics recycling can indeed achieve desirable results.