Depressed prices are not the only challenge for plastics recyclers in Europe, as they also face an array of paperwork and the introduction of new forms of packaging seemingly designed intentionally to make recycling difficult.
Presenters at a session of the 2016 Plastics Recycling Conference Europe, held in Rotterdam in early November, said there are reasons to be optimistic about plastic recycling’ s future, but the optimism can be crimped by some pressing challenges.
Valerie Bürstner of Germany-based recycling firm Interseroh said the company’s Berlin materials recovery facility (MRF) is confronted with a wide array of “non-deposit” plastic containers. These materials commonly go to waste-to-energy facilities, but Interseroh and other ALBA Group companies have been developing end markets.
The company has created two recycled-content resins made from mixed plastics (Recythen and Procyclen) that can be used in manufacturing applications such as flower pots or fruit crates.
However, Bürstner said this work has been made difficult by the ever-changing nature of plastic packaging, including multi-layer plastic bottles and blister pack materials. The use of glue in blister packs is “destroying the recyclability of it,” said Bürstner.
The low price of virgin plastic also has taken momentum away from the recycled resins market. Bürstner estimated that demand for the recycled-content resins produced by ALBA has gone down by 10% to 20% in the face of cheaper virgin plastic prices.
The trend is contrary, she noted, to a 65% plastic recycling quota established by the German government. Bürstner urged the German government to legislate a recycled resin use quota for manufacturers to stimulate end markets for collected material.
Shailesh Gothal of Belgium-based Gemini Corp. said Gemini has been growing its plastic recycling business in African nations such as Ghana, provided it can overcome unclear trans-boundary regulations. “We need clarity in the regulations; it would increase the recycling business in Africa.”
That lack of clarity has kept attorney Ron Laan of Netherlands-based Van Diepen Van der Kroef Advocaten busy with clients in the recycling sector.
Laan said a European Union Waste Framework Directive passed in 2008 has proven burdensome for European recyclers who export materials. Even when forms are filled out correctly, when a transaction goes wrong “there are still risks of a blame game” in a process where the liability is “often badly regulated,” said Laan.
The 2016 Paper and Plastics Recycling Conferences Europe were 2-3 November at the Hilton Rotterdam in the Netherlands.