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Posted on the 05-31-2019

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ICIS News: Widespread plastics recycling challenges mean targets will be difficult to achieve



The real pinch point for plastics recycling is the availability of plastic waste of the right quality in the right place at the right price.

Widely different collection systems are the greatest barrier to change on a national basis in some countries as well as internationally.

It is surprising, perhaps, to hear that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling rates in China are very high compared to those in more developed economies. That, however, is down to manual sorting and the ready availability of relatively clean PET waste.

The same is certainly not the case in western Europe, where one might expect there to be the capacity to push PET recycling rates higher. Collection differences and difficulties mean that there is considerable amount of idle production capacity that can use waste polymer.

One of the reasons for this is the contamination of waste stream. It is often the case that the more enthusiastic concerned citizens are to recycle, the more mixed waste enters the recycling stream. Bales of waste plastics are contaminated and their value reduced, making effective recycling even more difficult.

In the UK, for instance, because of the widespread sale of milk in polyethylene bottles, the bottles themselves are a good source of materials for recycling back to food-grade polymer. Contamination from other plastics, such as polypropylene (PP) – which is used to make screw tops for the milk bottles – makes the waste plastic bale and the polymer from the recycling process less valuable.

In many cases, a change in packaging design will be necessary to promote more effective recycling and is simply the first step towards a circular plastics economy.

This is where the major food and beverage producers and retailers come in. It is extremely difficult today to see the wood from the trees – to have a clear vision of what packaging for sometimes well-known consumer products will look like in a few years’ time.

SUPPLY CHAIN CHALLENGES

Contributions from players along the entire supply chain will be needed if the recycling targets being set now by national governments and the EU are to be anywhere near met. The ICIS recycled PET (R-PET) report, and a recycled PE report, which were launched in May, highlight the challenges in the supply chain and how weak pricing weighs down so heavily on these increasingly important markets.

The challenges for the world’s polymer producers are widespread. For some, inter-material competition will have a severe impact on virgin polymer sales.

Might these companies be expected to become much more closely involved with the practicalities of recycling as well as technical solutions to the recycling problem? That would mean research and development investment, possibly alongside investment in the supply chain in attempts to avoid severe margin corrosion.

For the more easily recyclable plastics, it will be a question of ...(CONTINUE READING SOURCE ARTICLE ON ICIS,see link below)


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