The entire 4.7m tonnes of rigid polyolefin (PO) waste produced in Europe annually could be diverted from landfill if the political will existed among governments across the region, according to a leading plastics producer trade body.
A spokesman for PlasticsEurope told FoodProductionDaily.com that 100% of materials such as polypropylene, (PP), and a range of high and low density polyethylenes, could either be recycled or channelled towards energy recovery schemes if European government chiefs and society as a whole were willing to “change their mentality”.
The body said that many applications were still wrongly seen as non-recyclable or barred from 'quota driven' recycling schemes.
It has called for a “supportive regulatory framework” to ensure that the infrastructure is put in place to ensure that none of Europe's PO output ends up being landfilled.
POs account for 48% of Western Europe’s annual consumption of plastics and are used in a broad range of applications ranging from packaging, automotive and electrical appliances to agriculture and building and construction.
Proposals for change
The curbing of cheap landfilling, extending collection schemes to non-bottle packaging, and promoting efficient energy recovery schemes would help, said PlasticsEurope. It also urged officials to boost sorting technology and suggested liaising with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on streamlining food-contact approval for recycled polymers as measures that should be implemented.
"With an appropriate combination of recycling and energy recovery, 100% diversion of Polyolefins from landfill is possible,” said Jan-Erik Johansson, the association’s programme director for resource efficiency. “Equally, I believe that supportive regulatory frameworks and improvements in identification and sorting techniques can certainly help the value chain to achieve this important objective”.
The proposals put forward by the trade group appear to suggest the burden for the setting up of the necessary infrastructure should fall onto governments. However, it does recognise that industry does have a role to play, particularly in the transfer of knowledge and spreadong of good practice.
"The producers' role is not to set up collection schemes, which is more the reponsibility of regional governements, but we have been working hard on the transfer of knowledge and good practices from one country to another for a while," said Sylvain Lhôte, who was scheduled to present the report at Identiplast conference in Madrid today. "We have been funding studies, we inform the markets on what can be achieved and we are running experimental improvement programmes in countries such the UK, France and Poland."
The industry body made the call as it unveiled the results of what it said was the first-ever study on PO recycling and recovery rates in rigid applications in Europe.
The research analyses data figures for France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK – focussing on bottles, other rigid packaging, automotive and electronic applications.
It revealed that 57% of rigid POs were recovered in 2009 but the group said significant improvements were possible if the above proposals were introduced.
Overall rigid PE recovery stood at just 32% of the 2.4m tonnes (MT) produced in Europe. However, the proportion of packaging that was either mechanically recycled or sent to energy recovery plants was 33%, while the figure for bottles was over 53%.
The overall figure for rigid PP was 14.9% - with packaging reaching 13.6%. Once again, PP bottles performed best, reaching 36%, while non-bottle packing lagged at 13%.
The study also noted that treatment of polyolefin waste varied dramatically by country. Germany was the country with the highest recycling ratio at 32%, followed by the UK of 29%. High volumes of recycling and collection of HDPE milk bottles in teh UK played a major part in this, said PlasticsEurope.
France recycled 23% of POs, Spain 12%, while Poland had the lowest ratio at just over 10%.