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‘Wonderful situation we’ve only dreamt of’

Optimism, fuelled by high prices and huge demand for recycled materials, is dominating the plastics recycling scene. At the same time there are difficulties in fulfilling supply obligations.

‘We’re in that wonderful situation we’ve only dreamt of: that there is such demand that, once you have value for a plastic, then you’re going to create more innovation, more people wanting to collect, more people seeing it as an untapped resource,’ Sally Houghton of the Plastic Recycling Corporation of California told the latest BIR Convention.

However, she also insisted that the most beneficial conditions existed only in those market segments where mandated recycled content was providing demand pull. In contrast, companies selling flake into the packaging sector, for example, were battling liquidity issues in many cases and were ‘struggling to meet the bale prices’.

Houghton also argued that there was ‘still a long way to go in terms of design for recyclability’, to which Henk Alssema of Netherlands-based Vita Plastics added that laminated packaging and other such problematic material streams showed the need for continuing co-operation between recyclers and packaging producers.

Best practice Philips

There is a growing commitment from brand owners to use recycled content in their products and among them is Philips. The multinational plans to quadruple its use of recycled plastic to 7 600 tonnes by 2025, the company’s senior director for sustainability Eelco Smit told the online conference. Already 95% of post-consumer polypropylene content has been incorporated into Philips vacuum cleaner housings and more than 75% recycled plastics goes into the non-food-contact parts of an award-winning coffee machine.

We’re producers, not recyclers

Smit sees ‘a clear trend’ among the business models of big brands such as Philips which ‘have changed into circular models’.

According to the sustainability director, large brands seek security of supply but most would prefer to leave recycling in the hands of existing experts rather than having to build their own processing plants. However, he believes that brands willing to invest in new technologies offer a ‘big opportunity’ for recyclers to either ‘scale up or start up’.

Export/shipping headaches

In a further contraction of opportunities for exporters, Turkey is to ban imports of ‘waste, parings and scrap of ethylene’ – generally consisting of LDPE and HDPE – with effect from 3 July. Turkey had become an important outlet for EU member states, with volumes soaring from 22 000 tonnes in 2016 to 447 000 tonnes in 2020.

Responding to the contention that Turkey’s decision would intensify the pressure within Europe to recycle plastics in the country of origin, Max Craipeau of Hong Kong-based Greencore Resources said that this could lead to a significant increase in flows, particularly of the lower grades, between Western Europe and processing plants in Eastern Europe.

Another factor for exporters has been what Henk Alssema described as the ‘terrible’ conditions in the shipping market, characterised by ‘container shortages, high costs and unreliable services’.

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