Expansion in plastic recycling capacity predicted

A report by German consultancy ecoprog says up to 300 sorting plants for plastic waste will need to be commissioned in Europe by 2025. In "The European Market for Plastic Sorting and Recycling” they say the EU Waste Framework Directive is the main market driver for this expansion in capacity. Under the directive by 2020 50% of the plastics in municipal solid waste (MSW) have to undergo material recovery. Almost no EU member state has reached this goal yet, and for the countries lagging furthest behind there are financial challenges. Currently there are almost 1,200 active plastic sorting and recycling plants in Europe and ecoprog state additional capacity of 5.2 million tonnes will need to be commissioned by 2025. This represents a growth of 25%.
The report finds Southern Europe has the largest market potential, with France, Spain and Italy the states furthest behind in plastics recycling. The waste management systems in Eastern Europe are currently being transformed and therefore also promise strong development potential, even though in these states financial incentives and the political framework to drive recycling are lacking. However, many European waste management systems that are considered to be more advanced are also lagging behind MSW recycling quotas. This holds true for the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway. In contrast to the situation in Southern and Eastern Europe, the main reason for this is not the status of landfill but the traditionally large market share of waste incineration. Switzerland, for instance, currently only reaches a material recovery share of plastic wastes of 10%, with 90% being incinerated.

Project lead Marcel Siebertz said: “Within the waste management sector, recycling will be the most important growth market in the coming years.” He added “Many countries increase their sorting capacities by expanding or building additional plants at existing sites. An analysis of the active plants in Europe has been lacking so far. This is why ecoprog has collected information on around 1,200 plastic sorting and recycling plants throughout Europe, analysed and compared them in a market study and forecast the future market development."

The plants currently in operation and those being planned differ considerably in size and technology used. The report states that the more mixed the waste stream to be sorted, the larger the processing plant. This means the UK, where comingled dry recycling collections are the norm, has the largest active plants with an average capacity of 59,000 annual tonnes.
While this report implies regulation will drive vast expansion in plastics recycling across Europe, a discussion session on the opening day of RWM earlier in September focussed on issues affecting the UK market. Chaired by Dr David Greenfield, Managing Director of SONECS, a panel comprising Roger Baynham of the British Plastic’s Federation Recycling Group, Angus Macpherson Managing Director of The Environment Exchange, and Jessica Baker of Chase Plastics discussed the current state of the UK plastics recycling industry. Roger Baynham said drivers are needed to deliver the additional plants that will enable the UK to meet plastics recycling targets. He cited the financial problems faced recently by Ecoplastics and Closed Loop as indicators that all is not well. He said a review of the PRN system and producer responsibility requirements are required to support the industry. Jessica Baker stated that while the current PRN system had given the market an initial boost, the system is flawed for current conditions, as it does not encourage producer responsibility, promotes offshore processing and encourages co-mingling. A more favourable view of the current system was held by Angus Macpherson, who argued that the PRN system is working well. Deliberations on the plastics market are ongoing.

Meanwhile, at Clarity we work across the waste sector to provide a range of options for recyclable material - get in touch to find out how we can help on 0845 129 7177.

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