Europe’s market for recycled plastics will never pick up unless regulators make a decisive move and impose a minimum amount of recycled materials into new products, said a wide coalition of businesses, local authorities and environmental NGOs.
“Up to €10 billion worth of investments will be needed to innovate and expand the separate collection, sorting and recycling capacity at EU level,” the coalition said in a statement released on Thursday (19 July).
“Our industry is prepared to make the necessary investments if there are legislative measures ensuring a significant uptake of plastic recyclates,” they write.
The bold statement comes from a broad coalition of 34 trade associations, environmental NGOs, local authorities and private companies active in the recycling business.
Together, they urged the EU to move beyond voluntary requirements and adopt legislation that imposes recycled content mandates for new plastic products as a way to create a truly circular economy.
“Voluntary procurement agreements can result in uncompetitive business, particularly at times when virgin resin is cheaper than recycled resin,” the coalition writes.
“We are of the view that the legal certainty provided by recycled content mandates for plastic packaging and products would be beneficial for all member states, collection and sorting companies,” they add, calling on legislators to go beyond the European Commission’s plastic strategy that was presented in January this year.
Bridging the price gap with virgin plastic
Recycled plastic is currently more expensive because it takes more effort to collect, sort and produce than plastic coming from virgin material. And the quality tends to be lower too because of contamination from various sources coming from different waste collection and sorting facilities.
With lower quality and higher costs, the decision for businesses is a no-brainer. “When oil prices are low, companies not bound by content commitments can purchase cheaper virgin resin and gain a competitive edge,” the coalition says.
“We believe that without minimum recycled content legislation there is not enough incentive for product manufacturers to shift from using virgin to recycled plastic feedstock on a long-term basis.”
According to the coalition, a minimum recycled content of just 30% by 2025 would considerably boost the markets for recycled plastics within Europe and strengthen the local market.
“A strong demand for recycled plastics will only result from concrete binding actions…to bridge the price gap detrimental to plastics from recyclates,” it states.
The move has become all the more urgent since China imposed a ban on all imports of secondary materials coming from Europe and elsewhere, the coalition argues.
Batches of recycled plastics that were previously bound for China in container ships are now being stockpiled in Europe or diverted to other places, like Thailand which now takes in more and more electronic waste.
“There are reports from all over Europe and North America that recycling programs are
stuck with sorted material with nowhere to go, except landfill or energy from waste,” the coalition states, calling for the European Commission to spur “a fundamental change in the way we do things”.
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