Markets for plastic scrap in Europe appear in to have stabilized moving into the end of the year. The challenges that have confronted many companies have not gone away, though positive signs should help in the generation and demand for plastic scrap.
China’s Operation Green Fence, slated to run through November, may remain in place longer. If this becomes the norm, the quality of plastic scrap, which has come under significant scrutiny over the past year, may improve.
It appears the worst of the economic problems in Europe are in the past, and economies in Western Europe should improve, to the benefit of recyclers.
As Operation Green Fence has made it more difficult to ship material to China, there has been greater pressure to tap other Asian markets. While other countries have not necessarily been as vigilant as China with restrictions, there does appear to be a growing trend toward greater enforcement of standards elsewhere. One report notes that EU exports of plastic scrap to Mainland China and to Hong Kong fell 16% and 23%, respectively, for the first half of 2013. At the same time, India has been faced with a sharp decline in currency value for the Indian rupee, making exports more cost prohibitive.
While markets are slowly improving, a number of legislative policies are putting greater focus on plastic markets throughout Europe.
Members of the European Union’s Committee of the Regions (CoR) have called for a ban on the landfilling of plastic bags. The ban, CoR claims, would result in a significant increase in plastic recycling levels. Earlier this year, the CoR had adopted a position to raise EU plastics recycling levels to 70% by 2020.
Supporting the more optimistic long-term outlook for plastics recycling in Europe, a study by the association Plastics Recyclers Europe finds that a recycling rate of 62% for the plastic is possible by 2020. In remarks following the release of the report, Ton Emans, president of PRE, says the study “aims to put forward the most suitable scenario in order to further improve the sustainability of plastics via recycling in Europe in the period to 2020.” Emans adds that enhancing plastics recycling will save scarce resources, create jobs and reduce environmental impacts.
Clas Oetting of the German company Dela Recycling explains some of the potential reasons behind Europe’s sluggish recycling statistics, including the significant incineration levels and low prices for the material, which work to keep plastics recycling rates static throughout Europe. Oetting will be speaking at the Paper Recycling Conference Europe, 30-31 October.
Oetting says recyclers need to increase the amount of plastics they collect, process and recycle. Although it is difficult to work around the challenges relatec to high incineration rates, he says, “high performance equipment to create reliable and constant qualities” is essential, as is the sourcing of high quality input via intensive dialogue with responsible parties.
In terms of reaching the 62% target, work remains to be done, Oetting says. Steps that can be taken include extending and creating high standard applications for plastic recyclates, such as regrind, agglomerates and repro pellets. In addition, Oetting argues that Europe should focus on giving investment security to plastic recyclers by setting up normal market situations in purchasing postconsumer plastic packaging waste.