So-called chemical recycling — breaking plastics back into monomers — jumped by more than 150 percent in Europe in 1996, to 553 million pounds, according to the latest data released by the region's polymer producers.
This is because chemical recycling is becoming well-established as a regular waste-recovery technology, according to the Brussels, Belgium-based Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe.
Overall, plastics recycling increased in Western Europe by 551 million pounds to 3.52 billion pounds between 1995 and 1996, APME reported in its report, ``Plastics Recovery in Perspective.''
Traditional mechanical recycling rose by 216 million pounds overall, the report said. Packaging showed the greatest growth, achieving a 50 percent increase of material recycled by both mechanical and feedstock processes, to a 1996 total of 1.4 billion pounds. Recycling for the agricultural industry rose from 33 million pounds to 209 million pounds in that period.
These sectors lend themselves to mechanical recycling, because in both, ``large volumes of clean and homogeneous'' plastics can be collected from a small number of outlets.
While European plastics consumption rose about 4 percent between 1995 and 1996, recycling of waste saw a 19 percent increase, APME said. Total regional plastics consumption reached 57 billion pounds per year in 1996.
In 1996, the industry reduced the amount of waste headed to landfills by 9 billion pounds, through a combination of energy recovery by incineration and various recycling techniques.
``The increase in recycling is extremely encouraging and we are actively ensuring this growth continues where there is an identifiable demand and it is the environmentally and economically preferred option,'' said Neil Mayne, head of APME's technical and environmental center.
``An ongoing program is dedicated to increasing market acceptance of recyclates via the improvement of systems for coding, dismantling and processing of plastics waste and the development of end-use applications.''
But, he added, although recycling can grow significantly, ``there are practical limits.'' All recovery options must be used to optimize the saving of resources, he said.