The soaring cost of energy on the European continent is increasingly impacting households and businesses across the board. Now, too, the plastics recyclers are sounding the alarm. According to the pan-European association of European recyclers, Plastics Recyclers Europe, the high prices of electricity are starting to affect operations at Europe’s plastics recycling facilities, putting at risk the highly-touted transition towards circularity.
“Stopping the recycling activities will have an immediate, negative impact on the plastic waste management in Europe,” said Plastics Recyclers Europe President Ton Emans. He added that plastics recycling must be recognised as one of the key industrial sectors to be protected from the impact of high electricity prices by the measures being put in place by the Member States if the drive for a circular economy is to continue its momentum.
Plastic recycling facilities run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which means that energy is one of three major cost factors, the other two being labour and maintenance. Energy has traditionally represented roughly 15-20% of the total operational costs. With energy prices up by 400%, energy costs have now become the number one expenditure, representing in some cases up to 70% of the OPEX, according to and internal PRE survey. This makes it nearly impossible for recycling companies to break even and means that without intervention from both the European Commission and the Member States, many companies will be forced to close. Already, Assorimap, Italy’s national plastics recycling association has reported that 40% of the plastics recycling activities in that country have been suspended, ‘because energy costs are no longer sustainable’.
Plastics recycling has a far smaller carbon footprint compared to other waste management options such as incineration or landfill. A robust plastics recycling industry is therefore essential for navigating a pathway to a low-carbon EU economy by 2050.
Recent EU policy and global developments have driven massive investments in plastic recycling capacities on the continent. The current fluctuations in energy prices can potentially cause these efforts to falter, or come to a standstill. The implications for the European recycling would be disastrous.