If the latest EU recycling targets are to be met, it is crucial to improve the collection and sorting of rigid polyolefin packaging waste, says Plastics Recyclers Europe in a new report.
High density polyethelyene and polypropylene account for almost a third of the materials used by European converters, predominantly in packaging applications. And of the 16.7 million tonnes entering the market, an estimated 6.6 million is rigid polyolefin packaging.
European recycling facilities can currently handle 1.2 million tonnes of post-consumer HDPE and PP waste and another 0.5 million tonnes of pre-consumer waste. In other words, the recycling facilities can treat roughly 18% of the rigid polyolefin waste produced.
However, the EU plastics recycling capacity will only be scaled up if the volume of plastic waste that is captured for recycling is substantially increased. Advancing collection and sorting have therefore been identified as a key element in unlocking the much-needed investments in the recycling of rigid polyolefins.
“Capturing additional tonnages and sorting out pots tubs and trays, is just one of the examples of making the change,” said Werner Kruschitz, PRE PP/PO Working Group Chairman.
Yet driving the uptake of recyclates is equally important.
“The recycled rigid polyolefin content must be widened,” said Herbert Snell, PRE HDPE Working Group Chairman.
“The existing trend of fully circular uses of rigid polyolefin recyclate, where rHDPE from bottles is used in bottle production, and HDPE and PP crates can be recycled back into crates, must continue to grow.”
However, rigid polyolefin materials can only become fully circular if the products made from these materials are also readily recyclable. The material will then not only retain its highest value at the end of life but will also fast-track a more cost-effective recycling process while meeting the requirements of even the most demanding applications.
As well, filling the existing legislative gaps to drive the uptake of recyclates, for example through public procurement policies, is yet another solution that must be fully exploited.
Hence, various factors play a role in realising the potential of the rigid polyolefins stream to contribute more substantially to the EU’s plastic packaging recycling targets.
However, to further develop recycling infrastructure and markets for this grade in Europe, collaboration between the industry and the European policy-makers is critical.
Plastics recycling in Europe is a rapidly growing sector representing over €3 billion in turnover, 8.5 million tonnes of installed recycling capacity, 600 companies and over 20,000 employees. Plastics Recyclers Europe is the organisation representing the interests of the plastics recyclers in Europe.