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sorting plastic waste for recycling

EU Groups Focus on Quality of Recyclate and Chemical Recycling to Achieve Circular Economy Goals

Plastics Recyclers Europe has just published guidelines on the characterization of recycling waste, while Chemical Recycling Europe calls for faster action to unlock potential of chemical recycling.

When it comes to recycling plastic waste, we have the quantity, but not the quality. Effective sorting of plastic waste is a requirement for a successful circular plastics economy, said Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE). The group just published guidelines on the characterization of recycling waste, based on the expertise of European plastics recyclers.

Given the latest market developments, existing guidelines were updated and additional ones created to cover the biggest recycling streams in Europe:

  • PE and PP films;
  • HDPE containers;
  • rigid PP;
  • PS packaging;
  • rigid and flexible PVC;
  • WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) and ELV (end-of-life vehicles); and
  • clear, clear-blue, light blue and colored PET waste.

The previous documents, known as bales characterization guidelines, were first released in 2017 and covered seven different streams, said the announcement.

The quality of the plastic waste collected and sorted depends on the characteristics of the waste going to the recycling plants, which must be consistent across the EU if it is to be improved. The new guidelines specify the main properties that define the type, origins, and characteristics of the sorted waste; levels of impurities; the means of transportation; and supplier information. The documents can be used both by the sorting centers and the recycling facilities to verify the reliability of suppliers and, along with the contractually agreed specifications, to characterize the content of the bales. Furthermore, said the notice, these guidelines can serve as an information benchmark in the process of checking the quality of the bales.

Sorting of plastics according to defined streams improves the efficiency of the recycling process and increases the quality of recyclates. To accommodate this, the guidelines were developed by product type to preserve as much as possible the value of materials. Additionally, the guidelines can applied to various waste collection systems.

“As the industry evolves and as individual companies advance toward a circular economy, the guiding documents will have to be adjusted based on individual needs and market changes,” said PRE. “However, these guidelines are an additional step toward a harmonized and well-established secondary raw materials market in Europe.”

While these guidelines are important, it will take “coordinated actions and practices” of all the players along the value chain to adhere to these latest guidelines to create a successful circular economy, the PRE noted.

Chemical Recycling Europe wants action

In a position paper published on June 2 on its website, Chemical Recycling Europe (CRE) calls for faster recognition and legislation review to unlock the potential of chemical recycling. “The recycling industry plays an important role in the transition to a more circular economy by turning polymeric waste into new value-added materials,” said the introduction.

The position paper notes that “sustainable management” of waste and the use of resources is the key to realizing the European Green Deal. “While the new Circular Economy Action Plan aims at “accelerating transformational change” required by the EU Green Deal, to meet this ambitious goal and reach EU recycling targets as outlined in the EU Plastics Strategy, “there is an urgent need to develop and implement new technologies for the recycling of polymeric waste” that go beyond traditional mechanical recycling.

The position paper from the CRE states that chemical recycling “complements the current recycling approaches and has the potential to be an environmental game-changer by processing polymeric wastes that are currently difficult to recycle.” The paper calls for investment in developing chemical recycling technologies and infrastructure that is projected to lead to the “creation of new jobs and the protection of the environment by curbing CO2 emissions and increasing recycling capacity.”

Image: Pavel/Adobe Stock

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