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Study suggests how to make the most of rigid polyolefins

Increasing high-quality collection and sorting is a ‘must’ to reach the EU recycling targets for rigid polyolefins, according to a new study by Eunomia.

‘The recycled rigid polyolefins content must be widened’, urges Herbert Snell, high density polyethylene (HDPE) working group chairman of Plastics Recyclers Europe, which commissioned the report. ‘The existing trend of fully circular uses of rigid polyolefin recyclate, where rHDPE from bottles is used in bottle production, and HDPE and polypropelyne (PP) crates can be recycled back into crates, must continue to grow’.  

At the moment, HDPE and PP account for almost a third of European converters’ demand and are predominantly used in packaging applications. Out of the 16.7 million tonnes placed on the market, an estimated 6.6 million tonnes is rigid polyolefin packaging. 

An estimated 2.5 million tonnes of PP is used in flexible films – including flexible packaging – and 0.7kt of HDPE across construction and packaging films. Additionally, textiles account for roughly 2 million tonnes of PP and 200kt of HDPE.

Maximum impact

With the current EU recycling capacity for HDPE and PP at 1.2 million tonnes for post-consumer and additional 0.5 million tonnes for pre-consumer waste, the recycling facilities can treat roughly 18% of rigid polyolefin waste. ‘The scaling up of the EU plastics recycling capacity hinges on ensuring that the maximum of plastic waste is captured for recycling,’ the report states.

Advancing collection and sorting were identified as vital to unlock the much-needed investments in the recycling of rigid polyolefins. ‘Capturing additional tonnages and sorting out pots tubs and trays, is just one of the examples of making the change,’ comments Werner Kruschitz, Plastic Recyclers Europe’s PP/PO working group chairman. Driving the uptake of recyclates is ‘equally important’. 

Making rigid polyolefins fully circular depends as well on ensuring a product is readily recyclable. This will allow maintaining the highest value of the material at its end of life but will also play into making recycling more cost-effective while meeting the requirements of even the most demanding applications. 

Additionally, filling the existing legislative gaps to drive the uptake of recyclates, by for example using public procurement, is yet another solution that must be fully exploited.  

Rigid polyolefins stream has a potential for a greater contribution to plastic packaging recycling targets. However, to further develop recycling infrastructure and markets for this grade in Europe collaboration of the industry together with European policy-makers is critical.  

You can read the entire study here.

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