A total of 56.2% of plastics waste in building and construction (B&C) was diverted from landfill in 2010 through a combination of recycling (20%) and energy recovery (36.2%) in the member states of the European Union (EU27) along with Norway and Switzerland.
This represents a significant increase on a total recovery rate of 51.9% in 2009, continuing the positive trend in waste management of plastics in the B&C sector. This is the principal finding of an independent study into plastics B&C waste in the EU27 commissioned by PlasticsEurope, the trade body representing European plastics manufacturers.
The study shows the relatively limited proportion of plastics B&C waste becoming available in relation to overall plastics waste. While the building and construction sector used 20% of overall plastics production, it was responsible for only 5.5% of total plastics waste in 2010. This can be explained in part by the low levels of use of plastics in the past and the long life span of many plastic applications in the B&C market, which can extend up to and over 60 years in the case of pipes or window profiles.
However, the proportion of plastics in the B&C sector has rapidly increased in recent decades due to their durability and their huge contribution to enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings. Therefore, the amount of plastics waste is expected to increase over time as more installations reach their end of life.
The industry has already been working to promote effective waste management of plastics products in building and construction for a number of years through voluntary commitments such as the pioneering VinylPlus programme on the sustainable management of PVC.
By commissioning the study PlasticsEurope addresses the current gap in comparative recovery data. Even though a wealth of data exists for the recovery of plastics packaging waste across Europe, to date there has been little or no comparative analysis of plastics waste management practices in B&C – the second biggest market segment for plastics.
Furthermore, the study highlights strong disparities in recovery rates from country to country. While the UK leads the way in terms of recycling rates (31.5%) it still sent roughly two thirds of its waste to landfill in 2010 due to minimal use of energy recovery. In contrast, Scandinavian countries have overall recovery rates of almost 80% due to strong use of energy recovery. Whereas in Germany more than 96% of plastics B&C waste was recovered in 2010, in Italy and Spain over 80% still ended up in landfill.
Despite the current low post consumer B&C plastics waste, the rate of 56.2% diversion from landfill follows the same trend as overall plastics waste at 57.9%. The industry will continue its efforts to increase this recovery rate throughout Europe, as part of its overall objective of zero plastics to landfill by 2020.