Rigid polyolefins in EU recycling targets: increased quality collection and sorting a must to reach the key measures to advance recycling. New study (1) identifies key measures to advance recycling.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) account for almost a third of European converters’ demand and are predominantly used in packaging applications. Out of the 16.7Mt (2) placed on the market, an estimated 6.6Mt is rigid polyolefin packaging.

With the current EU recycling capacity for HDPE and PP at 1.2Mt for post-consumer and additional 0.5Mt 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. Advancing collection and sorting were identified as key 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,’ said Werner Kruschitz, PRE PP/PO Working Group Chairman. Driving the uptake of recyclates, is equally important.

‘The recycled rigid polyolefins content must be widened, said Herbert Snell, PRE HDPE Working Group Chairman, he added: ‘The existing trend of fully circular uses of rigid polyolefin recyclate, where rHDPE from bottles is used in bottle production, and HDPE and PP crates can be recycled back into crates, must continue to grow’.

Making rigid polyolefins fully circular depends as well on ensuring a product is readily recyclable. This will allow to maintain 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.

(1)- HDPE & PP Market in Europe: State of Play
(2)- An estimated 2–2.5 Mt of PP is used in flexible films (including flexible packaging) and 0.7 Kt of HDPE across construction and packaging films. Additionally, textiles account for roughly 2 Mt of PP and 200 kt of HDPE.

Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) is an organization representing the voice of the European plastics recyclers who reprocess plastic waste into high-quality material destined for the production of new articles. Recyclers are important facilitators of the circularity of plastics and the transition towards circular economy.
Plastics recycling in Europe is a rapidly growing sector, representing €3 billion in turnover, 8.5 million tonnes of installed capacity, 600 companies and over 20,000 employees.