European plastics producers in bottle recycling drive

European plastics producers have launched a new recycling initiative in response to the EC's proposed Directive on packaging. The Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME) has announced that it is aiming to establish a bottle recycling association for each of three types of plastic, PVC, hdPE and PET, in every country by next April.

The initiative was announced during a plastics industry trade fair in Dusseldorf in October. It is not a direct response to the waste recovery and recycling targets proposed in the draft EC Directive on packaging but will go some way towards meeting them, says Vince Mathews, Executive Director of the APME's Plastics Waste Management Institute.

The EC proposal provides that 90% by weight of packaging must be recovered from the waste stream ten years after it enters into force. Two-thirds of this amount would have to be recycled, with the remainder being composted or burned in incinerators with energy recovery equipment (ENDS Report 210, p 32 ).

At this stage the APME has not set any recycling targets for its new scheme. Instead, each national association will set its own targets and timetables for achieving them. The aim, the APME stresses, will be to collect bottles for recycling and not for incineration.

On average, plastic bottles account for 20% of the plastics content of municipal solid waste. Nevertheless, acknowledged Mr Mathews, they are "a highly visible target. We know that recovering bottles is environmentally favourable if we can get them back in a sufficiently high quality."

The APME envisages that used plastic bottles will be transported across national boundaries to whatever recycling facilities are available. For example, says Mr Mathews, the largest PET recycling facilities are in the Netherlands but these are not running at full capacity. It makes commercial sense to run these at maximum throughput before investing in new facilities.

However, the APME hopes that bottle collections will quickly increase to the point where plastics producers and converters have the incentive to invest in new material recycling plants as well as chemical recycling facilities, which break down plastics into their chemical constituents.

Mr Mathews says he is confident that there is demand in Europe for recycled PVC, hdPE and PET. The scheme has the potential to recycle almost 1.7 million tonnes of plastic bottles annually.

The APME appears to be relying heavily on participation by local authorities. It says that they should assume prime responsibility for collecting and sorting plastic bottles, although the industry will help with the development of pilot projects and provide technical assistance.

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