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Busy times for worldwide packaging materials sector

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‘The world has a growing appetite for plastics – and Spain is no exception,’ declares Maria Rodriguez of Grupo Lantero at the annual Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference. Speakers were also united about one thing: the paper sector may be in a transitional phase but the material is as vital as ever.

The total demand from European plastics converters last year exceeded 51 million tonnes. Market analysts also expect the global plastic waste management sector to top EUR 29.9 billion (US$ 32 billion) this year and that could grow to EUR 33.5 billion (US$ 37 billion) by 2024.

‘Scrap is becoming increasingly important,’ Grupo Lantero’s sustainability manager Maria Rodriguez told delegates at the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference in Barcelona. She said sheets and bags represented the biggest application segment for plastic scrap in Spain and added: ‘This makes up 26% of material usage followed by plastic pipes with 21%.’ The other applications are garbage bags (16%), industrial products (13%), exports (13%), urban furniture (9%) and bottles and food containers (2%).

19% collection boost

Rodrigues is encouraged to see that Europe achieved a 19% growth in the collection of plastic scrap between 2006 and 2018, rising from 24.5 million tonnes to 29.1 million tonnes. At the same time, landfilling dropped 44%, down from 12.9 million tonnes in 2006 to 7.2 million tonnes last year.

Almost one-third of all post-consumer plastics is recycled, of which 80% is processed within the EU. And the output of recycled polyethylene (rPET) is closing in on 1.5 million tonnes per year.

Energy recovery represents roughly 43% of processing with landfill at just under 25%. Rodrigues points out that plastic scrap exports have dwindled over the last few years, down almost 40% since 2016.

Not enough trees

Around 57 million tonnes of post-consumer paper is collected for recycling in Europe. Spain is one of the leading recyclers, says David Powlson of Pöyry Management Consulting. The nation processes around 78% of recovered paper every year whereas European counties as a whole managed a 72% recycling rate.

‘The amount of paper recycled worldwide over the last decade is equivalent to a forest larger than the European Union,’ the market analyst points out. ‘If we didn’t recycle, we would have to harvest trees covering an area the size of Sweden every year.’

While demand is down for newsprint, this is more than made up for by a strong interest in packaging materials and the tissue market. Powlson adds: ‘Don’t let anyone ever tell you recycling paper is insignificant. It’s an incredibly important industry.’

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