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EPRO Reviews - Plastics The Facts 2010

Statistics 2009:

Plastic packaging recycling surpass 30%!

EU27+2 recycled 4.6m tonnes (2008: 4.5m),  30.3% (29%) of all its plastic packaging in 2009, easily surpassing the EU’s minimum target of 22.5%, says the annual report Plastics -The Facts 2010. 


This report has been produced in partnership between PlasticsEurope, EuPC, EuPR and EPRO.


Energy recovery also exceeded  30% for the first time, hitting 30.4%. In total 60.7% (58%) of all plastic packaging was recovered in 2009, with  39.3% (42%), the balance going  to landfills.  In 2009  six countries (9 countries), did not achieve the recycling target of 22.5% we still have a job to do, EPRO says, but overall there has been steady progress.


Overall statistics of plastics

The report, released on 28th October 2010, brings analysis of European plastic production, demand and recovery for 2009. The report defines post-consumer plastic waste as plastics collected. The plastics can either be collected as part of the mixed garbage or collected separately. What is collected is either recovered or not recovered. Recovered plastic waste is either recycled (mechanical or feedstock recycling) or energy recovered (incineration with energy recovery or used as an alternative fuel). What is not recovered is disposed at a landfill or incinerated without energy recovery. The report has detailed statistics for all plastics, see the key figures below, and separate statistics for different applications, such as packaging (next pages).  


In terms of overall plastics ‘recovery’, 53.6% (51.3%) of post-consumer used plastics in Europe (EU27+2) were recovered in 2009, with the rest going to disposal. Of the 53.6% recovered, 5.4m (5.3m) tonnes were recycled – as material and feedstock – and 7.6m (7.5m) tonnes were recovered as energy. This equals a recycling rate of 22.3% and an energy recovery rate of 31.3%


Due to the financial crisis, global production fell to 230m tonnes in 2009 from 245m tonnes the year before. In 2007 the production amounted to 260m tonnes. In Europe the production declined from 60m tonnes to 55m tonnes, while the demand from European converters dropped by 7.2% to 45m tonnes.


While the demand from European converters amounted to 45m tonnes (48.5m), the post consumer plastic waste totalled 24.4m tonnes (24.9m). The difference is partly explained by the fact that many plastic applications have a long life. Several plastic products made in 2009 will thus end up as waste some day in the future, while plastic packaging normally ends up as waste the same year. The post consumer plastic waste equals 47.7kg/capita. The generated waste figures range from 24 kg/capita in Bulgaria to 71kg/capita in Ireland. 


The recovery of plastics is close to 100% in some European countries. The following nine countries recovered more than 80% of their post consumer plastic waste: Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway and Luxembourg. The first five countries surpassed even 95%. Six countries recovered less than 20% with Malta at the bottom with 8.8%. Malta and some other countries have still non or limited energy recovery solutions, while some member states in the north have overcapacity on energy recovery.


According to the report the following eight states; Germany, Sweden, Estonia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Austria, Norway and Ireland recycled more than 25% of their total post consumer plastic waste. Germany on the top reached 33.9% recycling - this figure includes 1.2% feedstock recycling. 14 countries recycled less than 20%, Malta on the bottom of the list reached only 8.8%.


Malta and 15 other countries still landfill more than 60% of their post consumer plastic waste. This group of nations includes also Spain and UK both with very low energy recovery rates of just 13.5% and 7.4% and thus a rather high degree of land filling of 67% and 73% of their plastic waste.


As the diversion from landfill progress on average is slow, bans and landfill taxes might be necessary in order to reduce the amounts of all kinds of waste ending up at landfills in several European countries. Still many nations operate with very low prices on such land filling and do then slow down the much needed diversion process to better recovery options,  EPRO says. 


Plastic packaging

Packaging remains the biggest end-use for plastics, 40% (38%), followed by construction 20% (21%), auto 7% (7%) and electrical and electronic 6% (6%). Other applications, including medical and leisure, account for 27% (28%).


Packaging contributes with 15.3m tonnes (15.6m) or about 62.5 % (63%) of end - life quantity of plastics and as much as 85% (83%) of all plastics recycled. Packaging thus lifted the average recycling rate for all plastics in Europe, EPRO says.  


The recycling rate for plastic packaging rose from 29% in 2008 to 30.3% in 2009. This shows that the national recycling schemes in Europe, based on extended producer responsibility, manage well, even in periods of crisis, EPRO says. Each country has normally, either by law or a covenant, fixed national targets for recycling and energy recovery. These regulations are again based on the EU directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EU).


The following nations recycled more than 30% of its plastic packaging waste in 2009: Czech Republic (44.6%), Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Italy, Latvia and Slovenia. At the other end of the list we find France, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus, Greece and Malta recycling less than 22.5% of their post consumer plastic packaging.


Germany recycled 1.1m tonnes of its post consumer packaging waste in 2009, e.g. 24% of all plastic packaging recycling in Europe. Italy recycled 0.7m tonnes, UK 0.6m tonnes, France and Spain recycled about 0.4m tonnes each. Together these five countries recycled 3.2m tonnes plastic packaging in 2009.


64% of the post consumer plastic packaging waste is generated from the households, the rest 36%, comes from the trade and industry segment. The households contributed by 57%, trade and industry by 43% to the total amount plastic packaging recycled. While 26.5% (25%) of all plastic packaging from households were recycled in 2009, the recycling rate for the trade and industry segment amounted to 36.4% (40%). The changes from 2008 might be explained by more efforts within the household sector compared to trade and industry. In addition the more market oriented trade and industry systems have probably been more affected by the crisis during 2009.     


National results within the two market segments might differ between the countries due to rather different national legislation and policies. Denmark is one of the best countries within trade and industry, recycling as much as 61%. On the other hand Denmark is placed  last within the household segment, recycling just 8.2%. Denmark has no producer responsibility system, just a deposit scheme for PET beverage bottles. Opposite to Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Spain and France obtain their highest recycling rates within the household segment.


The overall recycling results for plastic packaging increased the most (percentage change from 2008 to 2009) in Lithuania, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Ireland, Hungary and Czech Republic. 


The recycling statistics referred to in this report are not divided according to polymers or plastic packaging applications. PET, HDPE and PP are probably showing the highest recycling rates within plastic packaging from households. In countries also collecting the film from households, LDPE is often the main fraction recycled.   


The following EPRO countries include all kinds of plastic packaging in their household collection schemes: Germany, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Italy, either in a separate plastics fraction or together with other light packaging (yellow bin). In other countries like Austria and UK some parts of the country collect all plastic packaging while other regions concentrate on just rigid plastic packaging (plastic bottles). Germany, Norway and Sweden are among countries having a deposit system for beverage bottles in addition to the general door to door collection scheme for plastic packaging. In France the system also focuses on rigid plastics (bottles), but French households sort out some flexible plastics as well. France now considers how to expand the system to comprise all plastic packaging. How to sort, recycle and recover such a mixed stream of plastic packaging is a main issue, EPRO says.



After the collapse of the world economy in last quarter of 2008 with a dramatic fall in prices of oil and several raw materials such as plastics, markets have been slowly recovering in 2009 and first part of 2010. Due to tough budget cuts in several EU countries the markets might weaken again. However the generated amount of post consumer plastics waste is expected to increase by 2-5% in 2010. Recycling is also expected to continue to increase but with still significant part of the quantity being exported for reprocessing in the Far East.


Recycling of plastic packaging is stimulated by increased collection within the household sector in some European countries. Better sorting of this material in huge advanced industrial plants might also in the years to come increase the volumes sorted out for recycling. Bans on landfill and increasing landfill taxes, like in UK, might speed up the diversion from landfill and thus stimulate both energy recovery and recycling of plastics. On the other hand  further regional overcapacities and falling gate fees at the incineration plants in northern countries might reduce the growth of materials sorted out and delivered to the recyclers.


In order to boost recycling further, new applications and markets for recycled material should be developed and shipment of used plastics within Europe should be eased in order to develop a sound European recycling market. Better design for recycling and greener private and public procurement and thus increased demand for recycled products might also stimulate plastics recycling.  


EPRO will continue its work for better design and recyclability, partly through the European PET Bottle Platform. EPRO will also promote the idea of recycling of plastics and recycled products. The EPRO Best Recycled Product Award is an important part of this work.  


Download Plastics the Facts - 2010 here