‘It’s not been easy being a plastic recycler, that’s for sure,’ says Caroline van der Perre, co-owner of Belgium’s Raff Plastics when reviewing the last few months. ‘The day-to-day business scenario is the complete opposite of last year. We went from huge shortages to huge surpluses.‘
How would you describe 2023?
‘Interesting but challenging. Recyclers are witnessing full warehouses as producers favour cheap virgin material again. It’s a stressful yet familiar story. Political tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and now the conflict in Gaza, are adding to the uncertainty in the market. Some companies are scared to invest and smaller players have difficulty staying afloat.’
What has Raff Plastics been up to recently?
‘I believe driving innovation is crucial if we want to increase recycling. We can’t wait for the ideal market conditions or perfect legislation. We have to be proactive. That’s why our company launched a big bag recycling project at the start of the year. It’s about time we tackle this often forgotten industrial waste stream. It’s no easy feat due to the heavy level of contamination. Our goal is to recycle them into new big bags, to close the loop. We applied for funding – for the first time ever – and I’m glad to say 30% of our efforts are backed by government and EU funding.’
If you could change anything, what would it be?
‘We desperately need dedicated plastic recycling legislation per product category, per plastic type. We have been waiting for years and will probably have to wait some more. Individual companies are taking action ahead of time – though the majority is playing it safe. As with most industries, real change doesn’t happen until there are hard targets in place.’
What could help spark change?
‘I don’t think it’s fair that our loyal customers who’ve been buying recycled plastic for over 20 years are not enjoying any benefits. They deserve to be compensated for doing the right thing, rather than the easy thing. Why is there no financial reward for choosing recycled plastic over virgin material? Big companies have much deeper pockets, and they still opt for virgin when it’s convenient. It’s a backward scenario.’
How do you feel about the legislative focus on bottles and such?
‘It frustrates me that politicians make such a fuss about packaging. There are many other materials and plastic products that can be recycled. Let’s keep an open, critical mind and not stare ourselves blind on polyethylene or bottles. They are only a fraction of the waste stream. ‘
Chemical recycling has made headlines recently. What’s your opinion on this?
‘Let me be clear; I am not against chemical recycling. There is a time and a place for everything. However, I think mechanical recycling should always come first. Chemical treatment should not interfere with our business. There is a strong lobby promoting pyrolysis, though. This has resulted in new facilities, big investments, and lots of media coverage. It’s a trend that is directly impacting our industry, which is already facing enormous economic pressure. It makes me feel very protective of our feedstock.’