DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — Many hands make light work… if they're Chinese and the material being sorted is lightweight post-consumer low density polyethylene film. But for European recyclers "the hands aren't cheap enough," according to Renaud Pfund, head of recycling and recovery at French environmental services company, Veolia Propete.
"Europe needs to develop automated washing and drying technologies but it's not easy," he explained. "The thinness of the current grades of LDPE film makes it hard to wash and dry mechanically, although people are looking at addressing this problem with growing degrees of success.
"However, current quality levels are not high enough," he explained. "And no one wants a warehouse full of recycled material you can't sell."
He said that this is not just as issue for LDPE – even when other materials, such as PET and polypropylene, have been recycled there can be issues with finding buyers if the quality isn't high – no one wants second grade recycled plastic in Europe any more, Pfund said.
A major part of the problem facing Europe's plastics recyclers is the depressed state of both the construction and automotive sectors. And with little sign of any upturn in these industries in the near future some suppliers are going to find it tough going. But according to Pfund there is some good news – both buyers and sellers of recycled plastics are looking at ways to make the market work.
"But we really don't know what the market will be like in 12 months time," added Pfund, "and the situation with China and its 'green fence' will be the changer."
Material is no longer being bought by Chinese recyclers as a result of local legislative changes but the infrastructure in Europe isn't ready to handle the waste that had previously been exported out to the Far East.
Until this is addressed Europe's mandated recycling levels are "not realistic," Pfund believes.