European installed plastics recycling capacity grew a robust 17 percent in 2021, reports Plastic Recyclers Europe, the pan-European organization for plastics recyclers.
Today, there are over 730 recycling sites in the 27 countries that are members of the European Union, plus three related countries (EU27+3), with a total capacity of 11.3 million metric tons. The sector is a significant source of jobs and currently employs more than 30,000 people across Europe.
Generating some 8.7 billion euros ($9.2 billion) in sales, it contributes substantially to the socio-economic welfare of the region.Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France are the countries with the highest installed capacities, representing two-thirds of the total market. Furthermore, countries with notable growth are Poland and the Netherlands.
The growth in 2021 was backed by an estimated 1.75 billion euros ($1.8 billion) in investment — a sign that despite the recent challenges that the industry has faced, recyclers remain committed to the goal of a circular future for plastics.
Ton Emans, president of PRE, noted that among these challenges were the soaring costs of electricity, which heavily impacted the sector, and the low available volumes of sorted plastic waste.
“However, with the increased advancements in legislation, stemming from the implementation of the Plastics Strategy and the Single-Use Plastics Directive, the recycling industry has weathered the crisis, showing its resiliency to external factors,” he said. “The positive growth we can observe today will shape and further strengthen the market for recycled plastics towards meeting the EU targets.”
The recycling streams showing the highest increase compared to 2020 were flexible polyethylene and polypropylene, PET and rigid PE and PP. Of the rigid polyolefins, nearly half of the capacity is dedicated to the household stream; for flexible PE and PP, half of the capacity is for commercial waste.
Increased investments and new capacities have created a strong foundation for the circular economy transition for plastics, says PRE. Now, a coherent legislative framework must be put in place, as this is one of the most important means to propel demand for recycled materials. The newly released proposal for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which calls for a comprehensive, EU-wide assessment scheme for design for recycling and sets specific recycled content targets, will further accelerate this transition.