"The sales are not on the level of the last years. The intake is lower, especially in Europe, no discussion about that," Hackl said.
"But we have other regions all over the world that we are still getting orders from. We are currently benefiting from two things. First, that we have a broad product portfolio, including recycling machines, filtration systems, high-tech components, and used and remanufactured machines. That broad customer base ensures higher stability, especially in these economically challenging times. And second, we benefit from the fact that we brought two energy-saving technologies onto the market last year that help our customers make significant savings in energy consumption and thus achieve greater profitability.
"For example, with our EcoGentle technology, up to 12 percent energy savings can be achieved in special applications in PET recycling while maintaining the high recyclate quality. Given high energy prices, this is an increasingly important purchasing decision for recyclers," Hackl said.
The dire situation is not exclusive to the plastic recycling sector. The general economic situation all over Europe means that people are reducing their consumption, be it in the construction, automotive or plastic sectors, Hackl commented.
"Due to the fact that less material is used by the converter, recyclers are producing less material. On top of that, there's the high energy prices so it's really quite a tough time, especially for recyclates in the lower-quality end segment," he added.
Not all is gloomy and gray, though. Erema is already seeing signs of recovery. "We see that we have already reached the bottom of the curve. We think [demand] will go up in the next months — how strong and how fast, one hears different rumors in the market," Hackl said.
The main recovery indicators, according to Hackl, are the slight rise in prices of virgin polymers and recent forecasts indicating some economic growth in Europe for 2024. The latest figures for Austria predict a growth of 1.5 percent in 2024, compared with a 0.6 percent contraction in 2023.
This slow recovery, however, won't be enough to repair the damages to the European Union's 2025 recycling targets, Hackl said.
"I think it will be quite hard — and frankly unrealistic — to fulfill the targets for 2025. Very little investment in being done in Europe," Hackl said.
Whilst the industry is faltering, Erema's CEO is positive it is not a dying one. Policy support from Brussels is needed to stimulate it, he said, as well as understanding that plastics are a tool to achieve climate neutrality.
"[Supporting the plastic recycling industry] would build an economic incentive for Europe because we can export this technology; we can export this know-how and do businesses all over the world, which would be a gain for the economy in Europe. We also need to explain to the politicians that plastics are a solution for climate neutrality, because we need less energy than paper and glass. Without support for the industry, we end up producing more CO2 through other materials," he said.
Industry body Plastics Recycling Europe has argued that enforcement mechanisms are needed to level the playing field between Europe and Asian countries exporting recycled polymers into the continent. It said Europe is using "nontransparent imports" from non-European countries to meet targets set by the Single Use Plastics Directive rather than supplying that demand with made-in-Europe recycled PET.
Between 2021 and 2022, the main imports of PET came from India, China and Turkey, followed by Indonesia, Egypt and Vietnam — countries where energy and labor costs are significantly cheaper than in Europe.
Erema's CEO echoed the sentiment by noting that Europe is the birthplace of the plastics recycling industry.