Increasing the circularity of plastics in light of the EU Plastics Strategy hinges on ramping up plastics waste collection. A strong secondary materials market can only be secured through increased collection along with other fundamental measures.
Failing to collect plastic waste leads to a loss of valuable resources, leaving European recyclers of certain product streams in a vulnerable position, unable to meet demand without sufficient flows of input materials.
This is the case for recyclers of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) drinking bottles in Europe, whose recycling capacity exceeds the amount of waste processed. Around 200,000 tonnes of PET recycling capacity in Europe remains unexploited.
PET is a thermoplastic polymer resin used in liquid and food containers, fibres for clothing, thermoforming for manufacturing, and in combination with glass fibre for engineering resins.
Waste that is wrongly discarded often ends up in the natural environment, wreaking havoc on ecosystems and wildlife.
Lack of appropriate waste management systems, educational programmes, awareness campaigns and incentives all have a significant impact on today’s low collection rates.
Making plastics circular starts with making sure that all plastic waste is collected and captured by effective waste management systems.
"We can no longer continue with substandard waste management systems, sending waste to landfills, incinerators or simply exporting it elsewhere. Without tackling the root of the problem, it is impossible to eradicate plastic pollution"
In the past, most of our waste was sent to China, which circumvented the issue of proper waste management and failed to focus on the quality of waste collection and sorting.
We can no longer continue with substandard waste management systems, sending waste to landfills, incinerators or simply exporting it elsewhere. Without tackling the root of the problem, it is impossible to eradicate plastic pollution.
Well-established collection schemes are the driving force of a successful circular economy. Applying the best practices and learning from European countries with effective collection schemes in place, can give valuable insights to legislators and municipalities.
The quality of recyclates highly depends on the type and output of an established collection scheme. Schemes with lower contamination rates produce higher quality recyclates.
For instance, a plastic bottle collected via a deposit scheme will have considerably lower contamination levels than a bottle collected via kerbside collection. A deposit system in that case makes the recycling process easier and more efficient.
However, established collection schemes vary greatly, not only among EU member states, but also among municipalities and regions. This can also have a significant impact on recyclers’ output.
Working towards harmonising collection systems across Europe is a demanding yet important task for legislators. With increased and streamlined collection across Europe, constant flows of plastic waste to recycling facilities would be secured.
Addressing collection rates and establishing optimal collection systems across the EU is a necessary step for an effective waste management system for plastics. Moreover, the industry should focus on implementing ‘Design for Recycling’ processes, developing sorting standards and stimulating recyclates uptake.
Most importantly of all, reaching these targets cannot happen without the crucial engagement and effort of all industry players, including consumers.