BRUSSELS, BELGIUM — Europe's plastics processors are calling for flexibility in the development of waste-recovery policies to allow local choice of the best environmental and most cost-effective recovery method.
The options should include reuse, incineration with energy recovery, mechanical and feedstock recycling, and biological degradation, according to the Brussels-based European Plastics Converters (EuPC).
``There is no universally valid approach to plastics waste management. The European converters require waste policies based on both waste prevention/minimization and a wide range of equally important recovery methods,'' according to an EuPC position paper.
The organization emphasized that plastic in Europe, in spite of the rapid growth in its use, represents only a small proportion of the total waste problem. In 1996, about 73 billion pounds of plastics were processed in Western Europe, EuPC said.
For that year, according to the latest statistics available, the region generated 37 billion pounds of plastics waste.
EuPC stressed that plastics already contribute to the general aim of sustainable development in several ways: relatively low energy and raw material use in manufacturing, fuel savings in the transportation of lightweight plastic products, long life, and energy savings in building uses.
Feedstock and mechanical recycling are seen as important means of recovery, but EuPC stated: ``Nevertheless, recycling can never be the exclusive approach to all plastics waste management.''
EuPC said recycling targets should never be set in ``an arbitrary manner [because] there is a danger that they will bring excessive and unjustified costs to society. Targets should be linked to developments in the true market for recycled plastics.''
If plastics recycling is to flourish, it ``must bring demonstrable environmental benefits'' and be economically viable. The quality of the recyclate should be at a level where its full market value can be exploited.
Large quantities of suitable, cleanable, single-polymer plastics must be available from a few identifiable locations, and performance standards should be set to indicate appropriate use of recyclate and/or virgin resins, according to EuPC.
The paper suggests that energy recovery is particularly suitable for small-volume, post-consumer plastic products. EuPC sees limited relevance to biodegradable plastics, and urges the introduction of a standardized European symbol to identify such polymers.