EU study shows rising trend for plastics waste recovery

Recovery levels for building and construction plastics waste appear to be on the rise across Europe as a whole, but there are strong disparities in performance at state level.

A total of 56.2% of plastics was diverted from landfill in 2010 through a combination of recycling (20%) and energy recovery (36.2%) in EU member states along with Norway and Switzerland.

This compares to a total recovery rate of 51.9% in 2009, according to a study from PlasticsEurope, the trade body representing European plastics manufacturers.

Recovery rates markedly vary from country to country. While the UK leads the way in terms of recycling (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 recovery rates of almost 80% due to strong use of energy recovery. In Germany over 96% of plastics building waste was recovered in 2010, whereas in Italy and Spain over 80% ended up in landfill.

The study also shows the relatively limited proportion of plastics building 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 sector, which can extend up to and over 60 years in the case of pipes or window profiles.

However, the proportion of plastics in the sector has rapidly increased in recent decades due to their durability and 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.

Maxine Perella

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