France shortage of recyclates likely as more waste plastic goes to landfill, incineration

Author: Matt Tudball


LONDON (ICIS)--France is diverting more of its mixed plastic waste to landfill or incineration because of a drop in man-power at separation and sorting facilities due to coronavirus, sources in the recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market said this week.

Regardless of what material is being removed from the recycling stream, the move to incineration or landfill will reduce the amount of post-consumer PET bottles in France.

The majority of sources also agreed that the problem was impacting mixed plastic waste and not just post-consumer PET bottles.

“The problem is the lack of masks and hydro-alcoholic gel for the personnel. In some municipalities, the sorting centre prefers [to] incinerate instead [of] sorting the plastics bottles, because they are understaffed,” a French recycler said.

This, in turn, is likely to have a knock-on effect on R-PET flakes.

One supplier of flakes to the French market estimated that up to 60% of the sorting facilities in the country may be closed due to the lack of manpower.

Sources were quick to point out there was no official figure for the number of affected plants, however.

"To date, 65% of the selective collection volumes are sorted and centres that had closed will open again in the coming days," said Sebastien Petithuguenin, director general at recycler and waste management firm PAPREC Group, on social media platform LinkedIn.

A buyer in the sheet market expressed concern about the impact the closures will have on supply in the wider European market.

“There is not too much availability of bales because of the coronavirus. France has huge issue [with] bales, a lot of sorting centres are shutting down and burning the waste, which will shorten availability,” the buyer said.

“Even if France is not active in selling [recyclate] outside of [the country], it means the quantities they can't get internally they'll source from outside, and that concerns me.

"I'm not sure if the [domestic] quantities that will be left without French production can be met,” the buyer concluded.

A producer of post-consumer bottle bales in Germany said it had spoken to a recycler in France who confirmed it has closed operation for a few weeks due to the lack of feedstock.

The impact of the coronavirus is now being felt across the recycling markets, including R-PET, recycled polyethylene (R-PE) and recycled polypropylene (R-PP).

As well as supply and logistics issues, lower virgin PET prices may also lead some buyers and converters to switch back to virgin material where possible because of the lower prices, and where PET is more readily available than R-PET.

It is not clear how long France will continue with this situation, but participants in the R-PET market expect that, if prolonged due to the coronavirus, it will have a significant impact on availability and prices in both France and beyond.

Front page picture: A recycling centre in France  
Source: Jacques Witt/Sipa/Shutterstock