R-PE Europe flexibles capacity increased 10% in 2020 - Plastics Recyclers Europe

Author: Mark Victory

2021/09/21

LONDON (ICIS)--Recycled polyethylene (R-PE) flexible film recycling capacity rose by just under 10% in 2020, according to estimates by industry group Plastics Recyclers Europe.

Plastics Recyclers Europe estimates a R-PE capacity of 2.7m tonnes/year for flexible films, spread across linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) and low density polyethylene (LDPE), with 30 new facilities added in 2020. 17% of R-PE flexibles are used in the film-to-film market, according to Plastics Recyclers Europe, with non-food packaging and building and construction remaining the largest end-uses.

Plastics Recyclers Europe also pointed to a number of underlying trends, such as extended collection schemes for flexibles, new sorting technologies, and intensifying packaging industry sustainability targets that will likely result in increasing growth from the sector.

Nevertheless, the industry group was critical of some initiatives such as Ceflex’s Quality Recycling Process, which it said in a press release would: “jeopardise well-established and well-functioning recycling processes while bringing efforts of making flexible plastic packaging fully recyclable to a standstill. Implementation of this ‘so-called’ new solution will generate additional tonnages of mixed polyolefins which can be destined only to an already saturated injection moulding market that cannot absorb the important quantities coming from recycling of flexible household waste”.

There is currently a structural shortage of waste bales suitable for mechanical recycling across all major polymers.

Flexibles now stand as one of the most profitable and attractive parts of the R-LDPE chain for waste collectors and recyclers, where previously material had been largely discarded. This is driving rapid development of the sector.

Many local authorities still do not allow flexibles into recycling streams, and many waste managers do not yet have the capability to process this material. Instead, typically flexible material is included in what are colloquially referred to as "MERF" bales - which are bales of mixed plastic material that has been rejected by a municipal recycling facility for reprocessing or sorting and separating.

Nevertheless, separated collection systems are becoming increasingly common, particularly in the UK where major supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Tesco have introduced flexible R-PE and R-PP collection points within the past two years.

Post-commercial bales are made up of pre-consumer waste from the retail industry, which is typically used in the distribution of products to point-of-sale for applications such as wrapping pallets for transport.

As a result, this material is typically clear and rarely comes into direct contact with the product itself, meaning that it typically does not become odourised and contamination is limited. Contamination levels are typically kept below 2%, and it can be used as a feedstock to create near virgin-like mechanically recycled material (although as with all mechanically recycled materials, it does suffer from tensile strength degradation with each cycle).

ICIS began pricing R-LDPE flexible grades and rigid natural transparent pellets in May 2021 as part of its recycled polyethylene (R-PE) report. To subscribe to the report, or for further information, please contact clientsuccess@icis.com.