Recovery of plastics including mechanical recycling and energy recovery exceeded 50% in Europe for the first time in 2006, 3% higher than in 2005. Half of all post-consumer plastics ending up in waste was recovered - recycling accounted for 19% while energy recovery used 30.3%. Mechanical recycling rates improved by 18% over 2005, spurred by escalating raw material prices and improved collection and sorting technology. Increased recycling of window profiles boosted the traditional streams of bottle and film, while the report notes that capacity for closed loop recycling is being installed in a number of countries. Energy recovery increased by 9% compared with 2005, reflecting that it requires longer lead times and, hence, is less responsive to market drivers.
Seven countries in Europe (Switzerland , Denmark , Germany , Sweden , Austria , Netherlands and Belgium), recovered at least 80% of their used plastics in 2006. In contrast, half of EU member states recover less than 30%. Demand for plastics in Europe (represented by the EU's 25 member states plus Norway & Switzerland ) was up 4% in 2006 to a total of 49.5 mln tons, the rate of growth exceeding GDP by 50%. This higher consumption level also increased the volume of post-consumer waste by 4% (equivalent to one mln tons) but the strong increase in recovery levels meant the quantity going to landfill decreased by 1%.
The following details are based on a report by Plastics Europe, in collaboration with key European plastics industry organisations like EuPC, EuPR and EPRO:
An analysis of plastic materials consumption on a per capita basis shows that it has grown to approx 100 kg in NAFTA and Western Europe, with the potential to grow to up to 120 kg per capita by 2010. The highest potential for growth can be found in the rapidly developing parts of Asia (excluding Japan ), where currently the per capita consumption is only around 20 kg. In the European context, it is the new Member States which are expected to see the biggest increase as their economies develop. Their current average per capita consumption of 55 kg is a little more than half of that of the old Member State.
EU25+NO/CH represent 25% of the global plastic production with about 60 mln tpa. Major European raw material producers are Germany (the largest - accounting for 8% of global production), followed by the Benelux at 5%, France at 3%, Italy at 2% and the UK and Spain both at 1.5%.
In 2006, plastics demand by converters in EU25 + Norway and Switzerland was 49.5 mln tons. Germany and Italy together account for around 40% of the European conversion to plastic products. Of the new Member States , Poland has the highest plastic conversion, currently at about 2mln tons. The Czech Republic and Hungary are each at about 1 mln tons. Processing industry in most of the new Member States will grow strongly in the coming years.
All countries saw a growth in plastics demand in 2006 compared to 2005. In Western Europe (EU-15, Norway and Switzerland ) this averaged at 3.5%, but Austria , Germany and Portugal achieved over 6%. In new Member States of Poland , Czech Republic and Hungary the growth was about 12%, reflecting the high growth potential in these countries.
Of all plastics used by consumers, 23 mln tons ended up as post-consumer waste, up 3.2% from 2005. 50% of the post-consumer used plastic was recovered and 50% went to disposal. Of the 1.5 mln tons recovered, 4.5 mln tons were recycled � as material and feedstock, and 7 mln tons was recovered as energy. Overall material recycling rate of post-consumer plastics in 2006 was 19.7%, with mechanical recycling at 19.1% (up 2.5% over 2005) and feedstock recycling at 0.6% (down 1% from 2005). The energy recovery rate was up by 1.5% from 2005 to 30.3%, reflecting the stricter legislation on landfill in several Member States.
In 2006, 1 .5 mln tons of plastics was wasted in landfills. If recovered, the energy saved � either by avoiding the production of more virgin plastic or by replacing fossil fuel for energy production � would be sufficient to cover 50% of the energy demand of Denmark.
The material recycling and energy recovery of post-consumer plastics waste varies significantly by country. In some countries like Switzerland , Germany , Sweden and Denmark there is virtually no landfill � these countries are very close to completing their diversion-from-landfill strategy. Belgium , Austria , Luxembourg and the Netherlands recover more than 80% of their post-consumer plastic waste. Several of the new Member States along with the UK , Ireland and Greece recover around 20%. Recycling performance is fairly similar across most of the EU25+NO/CH countries. If we exclude some of the new Member States we find the Member States within a fairly narrow range. This level of recycling can be achieved by setting up systems for recycling bottles and industrial packaging film. Some countries have recently introduced their system while others have operated their systems for some time. Even if there is still potential for growth in bottle recycling in a number of countries, the fact that countries with long experience have not achieved more suggests that increasing recycling will be increasingly challenging. Recycling (mechanical as well as feedstock) increased from 18 to 19.7% compared to 2005 while energy recovery grew from 29 to 30.4%. In most countries, adding energy-from-waste capacity is a very time consuming activity with complicated planning permission processes. Recycling on the other hand, is a smaller scale activity where capacity can be added in small increments, and quite quickly when market conditions are attractive.
The reporting of recycling performance in this report is done on a Member State level. It reflects the amount of material collected for recycling, whether this material later crosses borders within the EU, or is sent overseas to countries such as China or India , or stays in its country of origin. Within Europe there is much cross-border movement of material for recycling, which reflects the trade within the EU. The proportion of imported waste treated by recyclers in Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands is in the range of 35-45%.
Export of post-consumer plastic waste from EU25+NO/CH continued to increase to an estimated total of 0.5 mln tons in 2006 (up 25% over 2005). This represents 12% of all waste collected for recycling� which is comparable to other materials. Ensuring that recycling of exported waste takes place in certified and authorised facilities is of utmost importance for the credibility of the EU as well as for consumer confidence. The collection rate for mechanical recycling of post consumer plastics waste increased by 2.5% over 2005 to 19.1% in 2006. This represents an increase of 0.7 mln tons, giving a EU25+NO/CH total of 4.4 mln tons. This increase is fuelled by higher polymer prices and improved collection and sorting technology. The recycling capacity of the European recycling industry is estimated to still be higher to enable all collected material to be treated in Europe . A big part of this increase was achieved through the increase in packaging streams such as PET bottles, industrial packaging film and in PVC products via the program Vinyl 2010. As there is still the potential to collect more from the streams mentioned above across Member States, it is important to continue efforts and drive these streams towards their full potential. In addition countries like the UK are seeking increased recycling of the mixed plastics stream (i.e. the household plastics stream, excluding bottles). The plastics industry is engaged in this initiative and supports extended eco- efficient recycling. However infrastructure and demography varies across Member States , and therefore solutions will not be the same in different countries. For example Austria and the Netherlands have taken the opposite decision to the UK and decided not to collect mixed plastics but instead to recover this stream through energy recovery.
A packaging application with a good recycling track record is the plastic bottle. Such bottles can be made of PET, PE, PP or PVC. 40% of all PET bottles available for collection were recycled in 2006- amounting to 1.1 mln tpa. The countries in EU25+NO/CH demonstrate huge variations, from below 10% for some countries to nearly 70% for Austria or Belgium based on no deposit system. In countries with deposit systems recycling rates of over 90% are being achieved. If the performance of Belgium could be matched, then a potential to increase recycling exists of about 1 mln tpa across EU25+ Norway and Switzerland . The system in Belgium is based on co-collection of bottles, metal containers and drink cartons. Bottles are separated out in sorting plants. Recyclers then reprocess the separated plastics. As the quantity of recycled bottles increases, the traditional markets for reprocessed material, fibre and strapping, become saturated. Work is underway in a number of countries to close the bottle loop i.e. to use the reprocessed PET and HDPE for new bottles also for food applications. This bottle-to- bottle recycling will open up a big market for recyclates if the requirements for. food approval can be met.
The quantities of window and window related profiles being recycled is increasing exponentially each year. The total of 20,000 tons in 2005 grew to some 37,000 tons in 2006, an increase of 84%. There are collection and recycling systems for these products in many European countries: Austria , Belgium , Denmark , France , Germany (Rewindo), Ireland , Italy , the Netherlands , Spain and the UK managed by Recovinyl � an initiative operated under the Vinyl 2010 program. As plastic windows can last for decades without problems, bigger quantities of waste are only expected in the future. Nevertheless, adequate recycling capacities are already being provided for. In professional recycling all plastic windows, including fittings and glass, are pre-crushed in a shredder. By means of special separators, all metal components and glass are excluded from the material flow. Subsequently all PVC, which at first exists as coarse grinding stock of 1 5-25 mm in diameter, is hackled to fine grain size in a cutting mill. Additional separation and processing steps for quality improvement follow in line. The cleaned PVC-grist is subsequently heated, pressed through a screen and granulated. This granulate is then used as raw material for production of new PVC-construction products.
Feedstock recycling was significantly reduced in 2006. Investment in feedstock recycling facilities remains limited. The most common is the use of treated waste plastics instead of oil or coke as a reducing agent in blast furnaces. This is the practise on a large scale in Germany . In addition Voest Austria has an installation ready to use substituted fuels such as pre-treated waste in the blast furnace. One interesting recent development has been the use of an integrated non-ferrous metal smelter for the treatment of WEEE plastics which have precious metal content. Again the plastics in used wiring boards act as a reducing agent. Successful trials were also held in Sweden and Belgium . It is likely that this will be replicated at other integrated non-ferrous metal smelting installations. Technological development is expected to offer novel ways to recycle the building blocks of plastics. Sectors like packaging, automotive and E&E produce large quantities of mixed plastics in their end-of-life streams. This will attract research and technological development which must be supported. In 2006, 7 mln tons (30.3%) of the post-consumer plastics waste, was recovered as energy in EU25+ Norway and Switzerland , up 1 .5% against 2005. Municipal incinerators remain the most common means of energy recovery. Capacity has been added as a consequence of the Landfill Directive and countries like Switzerland , Denmark , Germany and Sweden have above 75% of their post-consumer waste treated in energy recovery plants. Austria , the Netherlands and Belgium are all achieving around 60%. Other countries have less than 20% of their post-consumer waste recovered in energy recovery plants. This includes not only new Member States but also countries such as Finland, Greece, Ireland, Spain and the UK. There is growing recognition in Ireland and the UK that the energy recovery capacity should be increased, but the planning process is complex and protracted and planning permission is frequently contested by NGOs and local interest groups. An additional form of energy-from-waste is the production of solid recovered fuel (SRF) through concentrating high calorific waste and converting it into a material with a defined specification agreed between user and producer. The use of such solid recovered fuels is expected to grow after the introduction of CEN standards for the classification of this type of fuel. This kind of �concentrated� high calorific fuel has a huge potential in partly replacing other fuels in cement kilns, paper mills and power plants. Significant SRF capacity is being built in Germany and progressed in other countries. Ineos is in the final stages of gaining permission for an SRF-fuelled power plant in the UK and a Finnish power company is building a new SRF-fed power station.
Spittelau is a combined heat and power incinerator located in the city Centre of Vienna, only 3 km from the St Stephen Cathedral. The plant was developed in the late 1980s and has a capacity of 260,000 tpa and produces 66MW, with an efficiency up to 86%. Of the total output 60MW goes to heating the Vienna district heating system and 6MW is generated as power for the Vienna grid. Plastics make up around 10% by weight of the feed but as much as 50% of the calorific content thanks to their high specific calorific value. When the flue gas leaves the 128m high chimney it has passed through one of the most effective cleaning processes, ensuring full compliance with the Waste Incineration Directive.
Recovery trends by application:
This application has the longest history of recovery and contributes about 62% of end-of-life quantity. Not surprisingly the major part of what is today recycled comes from packaging. Streams of bottles and industrial film are being mechanically recycled to almost 40% across EU25+NO/CH. Crates and boxes are recycled at well over 90%. Recycling rates for the remaining mixed plastics are still low � below 10% across EU25+NO/CH. In total the collection for recycling of post-consumer packaging grew in 2006 to an average of 27.4%, up from 25.8% in 2005.
* Agricultural films
Agricultural plastics waste such as silage film is a good source for mechanical recycling as it is made from a limited range of plastics, mostly polyolefins. However, often high levels of contamination by earth pose a technical and financial challenge to eco-efficient recycling or recovery. Two-thirds of the recycled volume in EU25 plus NO/CH comes from the three biggest countries in tonnage terms - Germany , Italy and Spain .
The recycling rate for automotive plastics waste continued to increase to just under 10% in 2006. Volkswagen won an environmental award for their SiCon process - a mechanical process to extract usable secondary raw materials from the residues from vehicles shredded at the end of their useful life. Plants to use this type of technology are being built and starting up in the Netherlands and Austria .
* Electrical & Electronic
Recycling in this sector is limited by complex products with materials intermingled in a way which makes sorting an intensive and expensive activity. An example of growing recycling in the E&E sector is of the inner liner of a refrigerator. For the majority of waste streams, thermal treatment via feedstock recycling or energy recovery is the most appropriate procedure. There is also some uncertainty about the actual volumes of discarded E&E equipment. It can be assumed that some is exported outside Europe .
Plastics used in construction are for long-term use and hence do not generate as much waste. Nevertheless increased recycling is being achieved in e.g. window profiles and pipes.
The use of plastics is expected to continue and increase, driven by:
� potential for innovation
� energy saving potential � and positive contribution to climate protection
� quality of life enhancement
� enabling of affordable products
most important task in the waste management area is to divert combustible waste from landfill. Plastics are particularly important to recover as they offer many options including recovering the calorific content of the material. For recovery, mechanical recycling will remain the preferred method for homogeneous plastics waste streams, whereas for a number of mixed streams different energy recovery options are preferable. Both methods save resources and CO2 emissions. The last 10 years have seen a remarkable change in the approach to waste management across Europe. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the recycling of all materials as well as more recovery of energy from combustible waste. The situation with respect to plastics materials is no exception, and as this report demonstrates, both recycling and energy recovery of plastics waste continue to increase.