PCEP increases 2025 recycled polyolefins target to 4m tonnes/year

Mark Victory

12-Jul-2022

LONDON (ICIS)–The Polyolefin Circular Economy Platform (PCEP) has increased its voluntary plastic pledge to increase the amount of recycled polyolefins used in European products to 4m tonnes/year by 2025, the industry body announced in a press release.

This is an increase from its initial pledge of 3m tonnes/year made in 2018, which it said had been reached in 2021 according to its Polyolefin Material Flow Study.

The PCEP General Assembly has also approved a series of other pledges, which include

  • A 30% market share of the overall polyolefin market for recycled polyolefins by 2030. The PCEP estimates current market share at 10.5% as of 2021
  • The recycling of 60% of collected polyolefin packaging by 2030, which PCEP estimates at 28% as of 2021
  • The recycling of 50% total collected polyolefin waste by 2030, which it currently estimates at 50%
  • A review of targets every two years

PCEP has identified three enabling conditions to ensure its targets are met, which include:-

  • That all post-consumer polyolefin waste should be collected alongside other dry waste and sorted to standards PCEP will help establish
  • That all products and packaging across the supply chain should be designed in line with PCEP’s design principles
  • That product specifiers should make increasing recycled polyolefin content in their products a key strategic priority

PCEP also highlighted necessary changes to legislation to help enable increased recycled polyolefin use, including recognising all forms of recycling as counting towards recycling rates and recycled content targets.

Although not explicitly stated in the release, this is likely to refer to chemical recycling.

Current EU regulations typically use the definition of recycling set out in Directive 2008/98/EC, in which recycling is “any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes.

It includes the reprocessing of organic material but does not include energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations.” This leaves the regulatory status of chemical recycling under the proposals uncertain.

Nevertheless, many players in the market believe that chemical recycling may be the only viable rout to mass food-grade recycled polyolefin availability.

Meeting food packaging targets presents a particular problem for recycled polyolefins because of the absence of large-scale quantities of suitable waste volumes due to contamination, the prevalence of mixed-recycling chains, the economics of sorting and separating, and tensile strength weakening during the recycling process.

In the EU, the challenge is heightened by regulator EFSA’s requirements that 95% of material used in food-contact approved recycled material must have originated from a food contact source.

For polyolefins where end-use sources are varied and typically collected in a single input stream, it is an intense challenge and barrier to market growth.

Shortages of sufficient collection and sorting capacity to meet demand for ambitious sustainability targets – particularly from the packaging sector – continue to be regularly cited by market players as the biggest bottleneck for recycled polymers.

2022 has seen record high prices across multiple recycled polyolefin grades due to waste input bale shortages. Shortages were caused by a multitude of factors, not least of which was an influx of new packaging projects in the second half of 2021, which had previously been delayed due to the pandemic. Waste availability remains tight in Europe for both R-PE and R-PP, although both markets are currently seeing some signs of a slowing of demand in non-packaging grades due to negative macroeconomic conditions, the typical summer holiday shutdown period in July/August, and comparatively low virgin values.

Waste bale shortages and high prices of recycled polymer flakes and pellets have led waste managers and recyclers to explore the use of mixed plastic waste to make up shortfalls, particularly for non-packaging applications such as construction.

Many non-packaging applications can handle lower quality grades than packaging, and are widening the types of grades they use as the packaging sector increasingly captures share of mono-material grades.

Historically due to higher wastage loss than monosorted material, and the higher difficulty/cost of sorting mixed plastic waste, using mixed plastic waste (particularly mixed polyolefins) was not previously economically viable, but this has now changed.

As a result, more and more waste managers have been using mixed polyolefin grades captively, and sorting material, leaving less available on the merchant market.

As chemical recycling capacity scales, mixed plastic waste is expected to further tighten, as the pyrolysis process – the dominant form of chemical recycling in Europe – typically uses mixed plastic waste grades as feedstock.

ICIS has launched a mixed plastic waste pricing service covering European prices for mixed-polyolefins waste bales, reject refuse-derived fuel (RDF) bales and reject materials recovery facility (MRF) bales. Along with this, the new service covers emerging trends in the chemical and mechanical recycling markets, as well as the burn-for-energy sector. To subscribe to the new pricing service, or for further information, please contact clientsuccess@icis.com.

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