BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - The plastics industry in Europe is shifting its focus on how best to recycle the bulk of plastic scrap from mechanical ``bottle-to-bottle'' methods, to incineration and waste-to-energy or feedstock recycling. Nancy Russotto, director general of the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe, a Brussels-based trade organization representing resin makers and other plastics-related companies, said APME is supporting the alternatives search.
``We look at things a bit differently than in the United States,'' Russotto said in her Brussels office. ``For one thing, there is not the landfill problem in the United States that there is here. We have little space for landfills, and governments are beginning to realize what the cost will be for mechanical recycling, as well as its limitations.''
APME, like its U.S. counterpart, the Washington-based American Plastics Council, supports a range of plastics recycling, source reduction and reuse efforts. Increasingly, APME has echoed the industry line that traditional mechanical recycling has major limitations, and alternatives must be found.
``There is a limit to what can be recycled,'' Russotto said. ``In the area of packaging, for instance, 60 percent of packaging is less than 10 grams [less than one-half ounce] in weight and, we are beginning to think, may only be useful for waste-to-energy or other forms of thermal processing.''
Many incinerators in Europe have burned plastic waste as part of municipal solid waste streams with good results.
Faced with the unpopularity of incinerators, and the difficulty of siting new incinerators, APME has chosen research and education into incineration for energy production and for recovery of petrochemical feedstocks.
``Mechanical recycling has not moved past 7 percent of the total solid waste stream, and the most optimistic estimates say about 12 percent would be the limit,'' she said. ``So we have to look at what is technologically feasible and what makes economic sense. In Europe, there are 354 incinerators for waste-to-energy, but only about one-third of them are up to snuff in terms of acceptable emissions and operations.''
To facilitate and coordinate research and policy making in the area of waste-to-energy processing of plastic wastes, APME formed the European Energy-From-Waste Coalition. The coalition consists of material producers, consumer product companies, waste management operators, energy and technology producers, the academic community, and municipalities.
The group, formed in January, has received official recognition from the European Commission, and was invited to take part in consultations on the EC's draft directive on waste incineration.
The group will lend technical and economic support to EC lawmakers trying to identify the best possible technology and waste-to-energy methods, with an eye toward setting standards for the 15 EC member countries.