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Plastics: a big industry with a bold future

The Netherlands – Almost 200 000 tonnes of plastics are produced in Europe every day, according to Ton Emans, president of Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE). Recyclers across the continent need to boost their processing capacity in order to keep up with the ‘€˜booming’€™ waste flow, he insists.

‘The future is ours – if we are smart, if we pull together, if we expand what we are capable of,’ Emans told delegates attending the PRE conference in the Dutch capital Amsterdam last week. Around 4 million tonnes of plastics coming onto the market every year is laminated.

‘Basically unrecyclable plastics – that’s where we need to step up our game,’ Emans advocated. In his view, it is no longer sufficient for the biggest recyclers to have a capacity of 80 000 tonnes per annum; rather, this needs to be scaled up to at least 100 000 tonnes.

Proof of compatibility

‘Also, we need to challenge the people in the industry – especially policy-makers and producers – to make sure recycled materials answer to the same high standards as virgin materials,’ commented John Standish of the US Plastics Recycling Association.

As a first step, the association is ‘very actively’ collaborating with researchers at leading US instititions to find out exactly which resins and polymer compositions are a good match or not.

‘We have recently published our lab tests that prove the compatibility of end-of-life plastics in a seven-step design guide,’ Standish noted. He hoped such a practical document would form the foundation of novel product design.

Look at the label

Since 1960, plastics production has grown twenty-fold, reported Kristine Dorosko, representing the European Commission’s DG Environment. ‘We established the EcoLabel as a practical tool for consumers and manufacturers to put the circular economy into practice,’ she told the audience. ‘In fact, the label was introduced over 25 years ago – we celebrated its anniversary in December.’

This currently contains 30 product groups – ‘but we are looking to expand it’, Dorosko pointed out. ‘After all, materials and technologies are rapidly evolving, sparking new applications and product types.’ She encouraged delegates from the manufacturing sector to share any new product innovations so as to keep the EcoLabel up to date.

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