Under pressure

April 28, 2014
RTGE Staff

The European plastics recycling industry continues to be challenging. End markets are showing modest improvements at best. Adding to the difficulties, offshore markets, especially China, are becoming more daunting.

In Europe, the lack of substantial buying from the manufacturing sector has kept a lid on prices for many grades of plastic scrap. Recent reports from a host of economists say the European economy has emerged from a protracted recession, although the growth is barely above zero.

Reflecting on the path that plastics recycling has taken over the past year, Dirk Textor, chairman of the Association of Plastics Recycling, a part of the German recycling association BVSE, says, “2013 was not an easy year for plastic recycling. Cost increases for preparation and processing could only be passed on to customers of insufficient recyclates.”

In a quarterly report, Textor adds that from December 2012 to December 2013 prices for plastic scrap have changed very little. Despite this, he notes, demand for recycled materials has improved throughout the continent.

The “agglomerates, gravels, regrinds and regenerate/compounds complement the primary goods and remain extremely advantageous in terms of quality and price,” he says. According to Textor, the trends seen in 2013 will likely continue in 2014.

At the recent Middle East Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference & Trade Show, held in early March in Dubai, Thomas Probst, a senior consultant with the BVSE, touched on the continuing impact of China’s Green Fence policy. In his remarks, Probst said the main focus was mixed grades of plastics and quality levels considered far more suspect.

“This stabilized plastics recycling,” he said. Therefore, only a small part of the recycling of mixed plastics and foils could be consolidated in 2013 in Germany. Probst also said the recycling volume of mixed plastics in Germany increased by about 3% in 2013 from the prior year.

With end markets becoming a more daunting endeavor, various legislation and regulatory policies are creating further problems for plastics recyclers. Policymakers with the European Parliament are calling for a reduction in use of the most common plastic bags of 50% by 2017 and 80% by 2019.

In support of the policy, the European Parliament has recommended that taxes and levies, marketing restrictions and bans should be considered by member states to meet the target. The European Parliament voted in favor of the regulation in April.

While supporting the concept, in a statement the European Plastics Converters (EuPC) says the association believes allowing member states the possibility to ban plastic carrier bags and legalize a current Italian regulation goes against the internal market rules and will lead to little environmental benefits while damaging investments.

Despite the challenges facing plastic, there still is a sizable recycling presence throughout the continent. In his presentation BVSE’s Probst said there are around 100 plastics re-processing and manufacturing companies in Germany with around 1.6 million tonnes of installed capacity.

Extending even further, he added that the European Union has roughly 1,000 such companies with operating capacity of 3 million tonnes. He also estimated that the plastic recycling sector generates about €2 billion in revenue per year.