Growth in European plastics recycling outstrips growth in plastics consumption

For the first time, growth in the recycling and recovery of plastics in Western Europe outstripped growth in consumption in 2000, according to new figures from the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME). The amount to landfill and non-energy recovery incineration decreased by 4%.

Overall, plastics recycling rates rose from 33% to 36% in 2000, which, in tonnage terms, was an 11% rise to around seven million tonnes (mt). Demand increased by 3.4% to 36.8 mt and total plastics waste produced increased 2% to 19.5 mt, which remains equivalent to less than 1% of total waste. Overall, an extra 11% of plastics was recovered in 2000. Germany had the highest consumption of plastics accounting for 29% of Western Europe’s total consumption, while Norway with the lowest, accounted for only 0.8%.

The plastic packaging rate is now significantly higher than the average rate of 21% for all packaging waste recycled, up from 19% in 1999. However, the APME report warns that some countries will not meet the minimum 2001 target of 15% set by the European Packaging Directive, and if the target is raised to 20% by 2006 only half of Western European states would be able to meet it. In effect the new target means an additional 1 mt must be recycled, which is a 54% increase on current performance.

Energy from waste (EfW) schemes continued to be a major element of plastics recovery in those countries achieving the highest recovery rates. In Denmark, which has a total recovery rate of 83%, EfW accounts for 75%; and it is 73% in Switzerland. Overall, EfW accounted for 23% of plastics recycling, a rise of 10% in 2000, consuming 4.4 mt plastics waste.

The strongest growth in consumption is in the electrical and electronic sector, at over 5% to 2.67 mt. Tougher requirements in the latest draft EU directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment aimed at checking this growth, met with strong disagreements between the European Parliament and Council of Ministers in April (see related story).

Packaging remains the largest use of plastics, accounting for over 37% of the market, but developments of more resource-efficient and lighter packaging kept growth in consumption at just below the average rate at 2.7%. Plastics packaging recovery increased to 46% up from 41% with rates stabilising at top performing countries, while significant progress was made in the lower ranks.

Eight countries recovered over half the waste plastics from packaging in 2000: notably, The Netherlands achieved 100%; Switzerland, 98%; Denmark, 88%; Norway, 82%; Germany, 74%; Sweden, 67%; Austria, 66%; and Belgium, 62%. A voluntary agreement between industry and government in The Netherlands allowed the country to achieve very high recovery of plastics packaging waste cost-effectively.

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