European Commission | Recycling of post-consumer plastic packaging waste in the EU: Recovery rates, material flows, and barriers


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ABSTRACT - Increasing plastic waste recycling is a milestone of European environmental policy to reduce environmental impacts and dependency on foreign resources. This is particularly challenging for plastic packaging waste, consisting of very heterogeneous fractions and typically rather contaminated. In this study, we collected primary data from plants sorting and recycling plastic packaging waste to illustrate process efficiencies, material flows, and barriers. We observed that significant losses of target materials occurred both at sorting and recycling stages. These were higher for polymers such as films, polypropylene and polystyrene, and lower for polyethylene terephthalate and high-density polyethylene. Applying material flow analysis, we estimated an overall end-of-life recycling rate for post-consumer plastic packagingwaste in EU27 in 2017 of 14% (not considering waste exported as recycled; 25% otherwise). An improved scenario for 2030 showed that achieving an overall end-of-life recycling rate of about 49% was possible when best available practices and technologies were implemented. To fulfil the ambitious recycling targets set at EU27 level (55% overall recycling rate), substantial improvements are necessary at the plants, product design, collection system, and market level. Our findings further indicate that films and otherproblematic contaminants in the input-waste considerably hamper the recovery rates, thus the improvement of the efficiency of the collection systems is imperative. In parallel, the development of markets for lower value fractions, e.g. polypropylene, could be a way forward to increase recycling, while improvements in the product design will considerably reduce the presence of impurities and contaminants in the input-waste.

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