Europe’s PET recycling industry rife with unexploited capacity

In 2017, Europe had a PET recycling capacity of 2.1 million tons, according to data from Plastics Recyclers Europe (Brussels), which represents European plastics recyclers. Of the total installed capacity in Europe, Germany (27%), France (15%), Italy (14%) and Spain (9%) account for 65% of the PET recycling market. Overall, 1.9 million tons of PET plastic waste were transformed into 1.4 million tons of recyclates, which were used for the production of new articles. According to this data, 200,000 tons of PET installed capacity remains unexploited. These figures correspond to a 2016 report on PET recycling in western Europe conducted by PCI Wood Mackenzie PET for Petcore Europe, a Brussels-based association that represents the PET value chain.

Plastics Recyclers Europe
Image courtesy Plastics Recyclers Europe.

“Given the unused installed capacities, there is much room for growth in the European PET recycling market, but in order to achieve the higher recycling rates the rate of collection must be improved and quality of waste increased,” said Casper van den Dungen, PRE Vice President and PET Working Group Chairman.

Currently, an average of 55% of PET bottles are recycled in Europe. All players in the plastics industry must collaborate and implement the necessary measures if the recycling rate is to increase to 57% by 2030, as stipulated in the Waste Package rules.

New projects and business developments initiated by the industry, such as the recycling of PET trays, are paving the way toward achieving these targets. These new developments paired with favorable investments will lead to growing recycling capacities in Europe. Nonetheless, PET recyclers underline the importance of increased collection and, therefore, availability of feedstock as a necessary condition to instigate the changes, said Plastics Recyclers Europe.

“There is a strong will from PET recyclers to increase the output of recycled material, but currently we are struggling to find enough good quality input waste,” stated van den Dungen. “Limited collection has always been a drawback for PET recyclers. Trust shall be built in the sector in order to secure investments as well as the absorption of these new volumes of recyclates on the market.”

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