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Do plastics recyclers have to prepare for the worst?

The plastics industry in Europe ‘is facing a reckoning,’ according to Martin Wiesweg, director of chemicals at IHS Markit. In anticipation of the K Show – which is dedicated to all things plastic – in Germany next week, various industry specialists share their market outlook.

‘The plastics sector has experienced years of moderate, yet steady growth, robust earnings and stellar contributions in terms of product and process innovation, employment generation, and added value in terms of functionality, convenience, and aesthetics for people’s lives,’ Wiesweg notes. However, the industry is losing public goodwill.

‘At the heart of this discord is the problem of plastic waste,’ he adds. ‘With increasing intensity and rapidity, consumers and authorities in Europe are uniting against plastics by bringing sweeping measures to curb its use and strictly implement a waste hierarchy.’

That’s why important themes like design for recycling, waste exports and circular economy business models will be highlighted at the K Show conference. Besides, 3200+ exhibitors from all over the world will present their new equipment and recycling systems. Interest in innovative solutions has peaked; the visitor list is expected to exceed more than 230 000 names.  

Not all ‘bad’ plastics

The thing is that ‘bad plastics’ such as “throw-away” plastics – which have been banned in several countries worldwide – are hurting the reputation of the global plastics industry, including the recycling sector.

In March of this year, EU legislators approved the Single-Use Plastics Directive. What are its objectives? It proposes a 77% separate collection target for plastic bottles by 2025. A follow-up target of 90% has been set for 2029.

All plastics packaging put on the EU market will have to be recyclable by 2030. The Directive also proposes the introduction of design requirements to connect caps to bottles, as well as a target to incorporate 25% of recycled plastic in PET bottles as from 2025 and 30% in all plastic bottles as from 2030.

Javier Constante, president of trade association PlasticsEurope, says he welcomes the adoption of the Directive. After all, it acknowledges that the ‘fight against litter’ is the shared responsibility of competent authorities, recyclers, producers and consumers.

Dynamic market

On a positive note, Germany’s plastics processing industry saw strong sales last year – a rise of more than 3% compared to 2017 levels. In fact, sales grew roughly twice as fast as the country’s GDP, notes Oliver Möllenstädt, executive director of the German Association of Plastics Converters (GKV).

All in all, Möllenstädt warns that ‘solid growth’ across the industry must not ‘hide’ the fact that the plastics sector could be performing a lot better. He cites the ‘very emotional’ debate about plastic waste broadcast in the media as having a ‘massive impact’ on day-to-day business.

Meanwhile, a new online platform has been created to monitor and register the industry’s efforts to reach the EU target of 10 million tonnes recycled polymers used annually between 2025 and 2030. The platform is called MORE (short for Monitoring Recyclates for Europe) and was established by EuPC, the Brussels-based trade association representing European plastics converters.

‘It will allow the industry to demonstrate its efforts and report consolidated numbers on the use of recyclates in the entire EU,’ says Alexandre Dangis, managing director of EuPC. He points out that the quality of recyclates will have to be improved if the ambitious EU targets are to be reached.

Studies carried out by EuPC over the last two years indicate that plastics converters ‘are having trouble’ finding an adequate supply of recycled polymers.

Curious about the Circular Economy Forum?

Here is what’s on the agenda:

  • 16 October: Get ready for circularity
  • 17 October: Boon or bane of plastics packaging
  • 18 October: Circular economy – a global challenge
  • 19 October: Plastics recycling – from small scale to big output
  • 20 October: Recyclates in products – availability and acceptance
  • 21 October: Waste management, marine litter & waste export
  • 22 October: Plastics industry – where to from here?
  • 23 October: Circular economy – summary of best practices

To help foster much needed innovation, the K Show is inviting students to the fair on Friday the 18th for a special ‘future vision’ networking event.

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