Future Market is Plastics Recycling
The new Packaging Act that came into effect in Germany on 1 January 2019 forms the basis for recycling systems which are significantly more comprehensive and effective. For the first time ever, the Act obligates all manufacturers and retailers to record all packaging they put into circulation for the consumer market and report the data to a central office. They are also obligated to participate in one of Germany’s dual systems and bear all costs for disposal and recycling they incur. Non-compliance can lead to serious consequences and even a sales ban.
The Act states that the following recycling quotas must be met:
- The previous quota for recycling plastics of 36% is increased to 58.5% from 2019.
- From 2022 the quota will be further increased to 63%! In order to achieve the quota goals, the law provides for strict monitoring and regulating measures.
STRONG IMPETUS ALSO AT EUROPEAN LEVEL
Current European resolutions on the recycling of packaging and plastics follow the same course as the new Packaging Act in Germany.
The amended EU Waste Framework Directive, which came into effect on 4 July 2018, also defines ambitious goals for recycling quotas:
- By 2025, 50% of plastic packaging in the EU member states (28+2) is to be recycled.
- The goal for 2030 is a quota of 55%.
- Additionally, the requirements for measuring quotas will be changed, which will lead to an even greater increase in recycling quantities.
The EU directive must be implemented by national legislation within two years.
The EU Plastics Strategy adopted on 16 January 2018 is also putting pressure on the packaging, plastics and recycling industries:
- By 2030, a minimum quantity of 10 million tons of recyclate is stipulated for the production of new plastics.
- Compared to 2016, this would triple the share of recyclate in the European plastics industry!
The amended EU Waste Framework Directive of 2018 stipulates a modified regulation for measuring recycling quotas for all EU member states (28+2). The new measuring method – regardless of the newly set quota goals – will lead to a significant increase in the quantities of recycled waste.
The problem with the old quota measuring method: Recycling quotas were calculated based exclusively on the quantities of waste delivered to the recycling companies (input quantity). But the quantity of waste material that actually gets recycled (output quantity), i.e. the quantity of material that remains after shredding, sorting and washing, had not been taken into account at all. When it comes to plastics, this amount is approx. 30% less than the original input quantity!
According to the new quota measuring method, in the future recycling quotas may only be determined on the basis of the output quantity, which means for plastics in particular that they will be based on the material quantities at the so-called ‘melting point’ (before extrusion). This specification is to be implemented by Germany and the other EU countries as early as 2020.
The new Packaging Act significantly increases the pressure on the dual systems to collect larger quantities of recyclable packaging in the future. This is because the participants of the systems – the companies putting the packaging into circulation – will be urging for the costs incurred for disposal and recycling to be kept as low as possible. So the first requirement for this is a well-functioning waste separation system.
Currently only 50% to max. 60% of packaging ends up ‘in the yellow bin’. In the future, the systems will make every effort to improve the separation rate to effectively increase the amount of packaging collected and recycled.
The new goals for recycling quotas set by the Packaging Act and the EU Waste Framework Directive will inevitably lead to a growth in production capacities and a technological improvement of the facilities of waste disposal and recycling companies.Numerous innovations and further developments, such as NIR technology for sorting plants, will play an important role here, making higher output and recycling quantities possible in the first place.
According to the industry leading umbrella organisation for recycling and waste management in Germany (bvse), the new Packaging Act already triggered a noticeable growth of investments in the industry last year: “New sorting plants have been put into operation, existing plants are being upgraded and additional plants are being planned.”
The new Packaging Act obliges the dual systems to create high cost transparency and adequately and comprehensibly distribute the costs arising from disposal and recycling among the companies participating in the system.
This is supposed to ensure that producers and distributors who use easily recyclable packaging, thus contributing to lower costs, also pay less than other companies. This will lead to a significantly higher proportion of recyclable packaging, especially in regards to plastic packaging.
Independent of the measures introduced at the legal level, public sector organisations are rethinking the issue of recycling more and more. Particularly when it comes to material procurement, aspects such as ‘waste avoidance’ and ‘recyclability’ are coming more into focus in public-sector tenders. In the future, federal, state and local authorities will therefore be buying even more environmentally friendly products – e.g. products with easily recyclable packaging or packaging with a high proportion of recyclates.
The increasingly severe restrictions on the global waste trade also play a decisive role in the drastic increase in the amount of waste to be recycled in Germany and Europe in the future. China’s National Sword Policy has already reduced waste exports to China to almost zero. Even ‘alternative states’ such as Malaysia, Vietnam, India etc. have meanwhile reduced their acceptance quantities.
Particularly the agreement reached in May 2019 between 187 nations to tighten the rules for plastic waste exports has significant impact. It supplements the existing Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Environmental organisations are already predicting that the new agreement could amount to a complete ban on exports in the medium term.
“We’ll have a transparent and traceable system for exporting and importing plastic waste in place”, says Rolph Payet of the United Nations Environment Programme. In his opinion, the agreement is “historic in the sense that it is legally binding”.
Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) also notes that “now it’s possible to stop the export of polluted and questionable plastic waste from the EU to Asia and Africa”. State authorities and German customs will have to prevent the export of such waste in the future. And Europe and Germany carry their own responsibility for sorting their plastic waste, and recycling it as effectively as possible.
Especially in regard to the increased recycling quotas stipulated by the new Packaging Act, plastic as a production material is still clearly lagging behind competing materials such as paper, metal or glass. This is due not least to the low percentage of recyclates in the production of new plastic.
In order to remain competitive, in the future plastics producers will not only have to significantly increase the recyclability of their products, but also the proportion of recyclates in new production. The legally required recycling quotas for plastics can only be achieved cost-effectively within a well-functioning recycling system.
- Recycling quota
- Proportion of recyclates in new products (Basis: post-consumer recycled material)