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EPRO at Indentiplast 2007 - T&I Focus

Further to the presentation on Monday 23rd April at Identiplast in Brussels, Tina van Lierde and Peter Sundt have written the following article on Trade and Industry recycling schemes in Europe.

For more information about the systems in each country please click on the country of the map.

Trade and Industry recycling schemes in Europe


By Tina Van Lierde EPRO/Val-I-Pac and Peter Sundt, EPRO



In the general discussion of how each country across Europe will achieve their  recycling targets for plastic packaging the focus has traditionally been on packaging entering the wastestream from households.


In this article we want to focus on the opportunity and importance of plastic packaging stemming from trade and industry. With more focus on trade and industry, and  effective  national systems in place, each country might reach their recycling targets more efficiently, across a broader plastic packaging base.


EU targets and results for plastics


For the European Union, cutting back on packaging waste is part of the commissions program to reduce the amount of waste generated in Europe. With the revision of the packaging waste directive in 2004, more stringent targets are to be reached by the member states by 2008 (2012

for the new EU member states). The recycling minimum target for plastics is 22.5%


If we compare the different packaging materials, we notice that next to paper, board and glass, plastics are used frequently as packaging. With 37%, packaging remains the biggest end user of total plastics demand (PlasticsEurope,2004). Based on the latest European statistics (2004), 13.208 ktonnes of plastics was registered by the member states as packaging brought onto the market. Of this tonnage 3.250 ktonnes went to recycling, resulting in a recycling percentage

of 24,6 %.


Based on new EU or national environmental initiatives, the targets might be increased. In many countries the national targets are much higher than the EU-targets.  In addition, other materials are showing better recycling results. More emphasis on the collection and recycling of plastic packaging waste might be regarded as necessary.   



A variety of national solutions and best practice


Depending on national legislation, existing infrastructure, geography and even culture., member states have implemented different systems to reach the European targets for packaging waste. Due to this diversity, comparing those systems and their results is a complex task. Also it is not possible to suggest one best practice for all countries.


However, learning from each other and exchanging information is key and may assist in the process of upgrading current country systems.  Working together to maximize effective plastics recovery and recycling is the primary goal of EPRO (European Association of Plastics Recycling and recovery Organizations).      

In 2006, a survey among the ‘old’ European member states, was executed by EPRO in order to be able to indicate some best practices for organizing an efficient system and hence stimulate the collection and recycling of plastic packaging waste. In this article we will give an overview of the different existing systems, compare some key elements and present our conclusions.


More than 40% of the packaging


According to EPRO statistics, the proportion between plastic packaging waste from households and Trade and Industry is on average 60 to 40. This means that 60% of the plastic packaging waste stems from households, whereas 40% of the plastic packaging waste is generated in companies. Thanks to the success of the ‘green dot’ system, most European countries have already implemented a system for collecting and sorting household plastic packaging waste. Plastic packaging waste from Trade and Industry has received less attention, but is becoming more important in reaching the European targets.


Easy to recycle


There are some very good arguments on why we should begin to focus more on packaging waste from Trade and Industry.

As a starting point,  the material: more than 60% of plastic packaging waste from Trade and Industry consists of LDPE, followed by HDPE and PP, both around 10% (EPRO, 2003), thus providing a relatively large amount of easy recyclable materials, in many cases with a low degree of contamination. Furthermore this material is available in larger quantities compared with household waste (i.e. the weight of one pallet film is ca 1 kg, the weight of a PET bottle 30 grammes).


If the market rules


Linked with this easy recyclable waste stream, the cost of collecting and recycling this material is another argument to take into account. For example, the UK went for a free market solution and created a ‘market’ for the buying and selling of P(E)RN’s (Packaging (export) recovery notes). Companies, by law are required to take responsibility and indicate the volume of packaging brought onto the market, have to buy P(E)RN’s to fulfill their responsibilities. Recyclers or waste traders can sell P(E)RN’s for the material they recycle or trade. The price or ‘license fee’ is thus the result of demand and supply. It is interesting to see that due to this market oriented system more efforts were done for packaging waste from Trade and Industry, resulting in a recycling percentage of 44%, in comparison with a recycling percentage of plastic packaging waste from households of 5% (EPRO, 2005). If we follow the economic theory that the market chooses a combination of the lowest costs with the highest revenue, this can found the second argument.    


Different targets – different systems across Europe


How are the European countries dealing with these two waste streams, household and Trade and Industry, plastic packaging waste.


Starting with the national targets for recycling and the structure of the system, we defined three possibilities.


  • Most countries have one target for plastic packaging from households and Trade and Industry together in combination with one system or organization or no overall system at all. The advantage of one target in combination with one organization/system, as in Norway, is that it is easier to achieve the target and efforts can be optimized giving the flexibility to target the most relevant waste streams, at any point in time.  Denmark is an example where there exists no national system as Denmark has not introduced the idea of Extended Producer Responsibility.


  • A second possibility is separate targets for household waste and waste from Trade and Industry in combination with two (or more) organizations. Actually only Germany, Belgium and France are organized this way. This gives the opportunity to develop a tailor made system for each stream and also assures that both streams receive the focus required.


  • The last possibility is the combination of separate targets and one organization, which is the case in Austria and Portugal.


Different philosophies regarding license fees


Differences in the structure of the license fee (fee to be paid by companies responsible for the packaging brought onto the market) can be linked with the choice for one or different national targets and the structure of the system.


We noticed that countries with separate targets for plastic packaging waste from households and from Trade and Industry have lower license fees for plastic packaging waste from Trade and Industry, than for household packaging waste. If we look at the countries with one target we get a slightly different picture.  The Netherlands combine one target with lower fees for packaging from Trade and Industry. In Sweden and Spain there is actually no license fee for packaging from Trade and Industry. The other countries, e.g. Italy, with one target combine this with one rate for all plastic packaging.


Three different models


Another key element in the design of a system is the degree of impact a system has on the collection, sorting and recycling of packaging waste. Only Austria and Germany have systems which control collection, sorting and recycling e.g. The systems buys and sells the plastics as part of their activity.


The other countries are leaving the collection, sorting and/ or recycling free or influence them. Influencing collection and sorting can for example be done by financial incentives for companies who sort their waste streams as is the case in Belgium. This results in separate flows of waste, which is often a cheaper solution for the companies but is also beneficial for the waste companies with lower sorting costs and better quality waste. In Sweden the model has lately been changed from influencing collection and recycling from Trade and Industry to a free market model.


If recycling is not controlled or influenced directly by agreements or even financially, the plastic packaging waste which is exported to be recycled abroad tends to be higher. For some countries this may be a positive evolution as more recycling capacity is available at a lower cost. It can however be a potential threat for systems relying on export when export is restricted or demand decreases.


Models vs. results


With regard to results, it is not possible to select one ‘best’ system. There are however some important findings to mention.

First, it is clear that national legislation is a very important factor in influencing the existence, design and functioning of a system and consequently the results.


When reviewing recycling percentages, we see that market oriented systems (e.g. UK) or systems with different targets for plastic packaging waste from Trade and Industry (e.g. Germany, Belgium), can achieve good results. Also license fees tend to be lower for packaging from Trade and Industry in countries where a different target is set for this packaging waste.


A third finding was that learning from each other is very important and existing systems are often a guiding principle for other member states. For example the idea of financial incentives for companies who sort their waste, initiated by Belgium, is now also implemented in the Netherlands and Portugal and adapted to their systems.


Flexibility of systems is crucial and continues to be a proven (?) asset across this industry. In Norway for example cooperation between the fishing industry, the packaging industry, the operators in the market and the national system for packaging waste resulted in well functioning solutions also for the smaller fractions as fishing crates (EPS) and PP-big bags.


Best practice    


Finally, having a system is only the beginning. Adapting this system to the specific characteristics of each country to ensure good functioning and better results is the first challenge. Being proactive is a second challenge and some future action points were quoted by the countries.


  • A first point is the importance of good statistics and documentation. Having correct figures and information makes it easier to define potential opportunities or threats and follow up the system. Good statistics can also help in comparing systems between countries.


  • The second action point was communication and education a common factor across any recovery and recycling activity In the case of Trade and Industry, in order to achieve  higher recycling percentages, companies and their employees need to be aware of the importance of sorting their waste and the economic and environmental advantages attached to it. Normally it is also a need for practical guidance regarding how to sort the used plastic packaging as well.