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Recycling of flexible film in the EU expands

The capacity for recycling flexible film in the EU grew by 10% in 2020, according to Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) which says it demonstrates solid growth in the sector despite disruption caused by the Covid pandemic. Its latest estimate suggests a polyethylene film recycling capacity of 2.7 million tonnes with 218 new facilities, up 30 on the previous year.

PRE says demand for LLDPE/LDPE is more than nine million tonnes, the second largest plastic fraction in the EU market, indicating ‘a major recycling potential’. Today, 17% of recycled flexible PE goes to second use in non-food packaging and the building and construction market. Forecasts suggest that PE film products could incorporate overall as much as 38% of recycled content by 2030.

‘Once deemed difficult to recycle, flexible household polyethylene waste recycling is a successful business case model of today,’ says Ton Emans, PRE president and chairman of its LDPE working group ‘Closed-loop recycling is the future of circular flexible plastic, placing Europe as a front runner of mechanical film recycling. This is a strong signal not only for investors but also brand owners, retailers, policy-makers and citizens.’

Emans acknowledges that challenges remain with the main obstacles being high-end applications and multi-layer and multi-material products.

PRE believes the growth of flexible plastic recycling is set to expand with extended collection schemes across the EU, including from households, while better sorting technologies generate mono-material streams, gradually decreasing mixed polyolefin fractions. Demand for high-quality recycled flexible PE will further grow, it adds.

However, PRE argues the ‘Quality Recycling Process’ developed by Ceflex undermines the objective of making flexible packaging household waste fully circular. It complains it will jeopardise well-established recycling processes while bringing hampering efforts to make flexible plastic packaging fully recyclable. ‘Implementation of this so-called new solution will generate additional tonnages of mixed polyolefins which can be destined only to an already saturated injection moulding market that cannot absorb the important quantities coming from recycling of flexible household waste,’ says PRE.

’Processes which propose only 20% of the recycled film back to film applications and 80% to injection moulding are a step backwards for our industry as they are not aligned with the principles of the circular economy’ Emans adds. ‘It will never be a profitable business case.’

PRE insists that taking flexible plastic waste management towards circularity means optimising and advancing existing processes and solutions to boost the quality of recycled material, driving the uptake of recyclates in film applications.

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