HomePET Knowledge BaseMarket Contraction Poses a Threat to the Growth of the European Plastic Recycling Industry

Market Contraction Poses a Threat to the Growth of the European Plastic Recycling Industry


New data reveals that the overall plastic recycling capacity in Europe reached 12.5 million tonnes in 2022. However, there was a slowdown in growth, dropping from a 17% to a 10% year-on-year increase due to significant market disturbances.


Ton Emans emphasized the crucial role of progress in sustaining the plastics recycling industry. Despite the unwavering commitment from recyclers, the sector grappled with unprecedented challenges – first, a pause in activities during the COVID-19 outbreak, followed by the 2022 energy crisis. In 2023, the sector faced another blow with alarmingly low demand for recyclates, stemming from reduced EU industrial production and inexpensive imports of recycled plastic from outside the EU. Looking ahead, Ton Emans stressed the necessity of enforcing legislative measures to maintain and propel progress in the industry.


Examining 850 recycling sites across Europe, the report highlights their predominantly small scale, averaging a capacity of 15,000 tonnes. From a socio-economic perspective, the plastics recycling sector boasts a substantial impact, contributing a turnover of €10.4 billion and providing employment for over 30,000 workers.


When it comes to polymer grades, flexible polyolefins, PET, and rigid polyolefins continue to dominate, comprising over 80% of the total capacities. In this year's report, PRE introduced a detailed breakdown, distinguishing between the capacities of rigid polyethylene (PE) and rigid polypropylene (PP), which were previously reported together.


Examining the geographic spread of recycling endeavors in Europe, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and France collectively account for 60% of the total. Spain, Italy, Poland, and Belgium show a significant focus on PE and PP flexibles, holding the largest relative share of recycling capacity compared to other polymers. In France, almost one-third of the total capacity is dedicated to PET. Notably, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania witnessed the most rapid growth in capacities compared to the previous year.


Over the years, the plastics recycling industry in Europe has consistently invested to meet legislative targets, ensuring sufficient capacities. However, achieving these targets is now a concern due to the reduced growth rate in recyclates production, stemming from decreased demand. Beyond the industry impact, there are environmental consequences. In 2022 alone, plastics recycling activities led to a reduction of over 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – an equivalent of removing all Belgian passenger cars from circulation for a year.


The success of plastic circularity hinges on upcoming legislative changes. Notably, proposals like the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation or the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive will play a crucial role. These proposals bring forth new targets, serving as catalysts to enhance the waste management of plastics in Europe.


To ensure effectiveness, these measures must be complemented by robust enforcement mechanisms and the standardization of practices across Member States.

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