Lack of material
The biggest challenge for the recycling market is likely to remain the lack of readily available raw materials. ICIS analysis shows that achieving the current regulatory and brand-centered sustainable development goals will require a significant increase in European collection rates and improved recycling practices.
The European Commission has set a target for reuse of 50% of municipal waste by 2020, in line with the Waste Framework Directive, which recently expanded to 55% by 2025 and 65% by 2035. There is a separate target for plastic packaging, 55% of which must be recycled and 100% recyclable by 2030. The EU Council also adopted a target of 90% separate collection of plastic bottles by 2029 and 77% by 2025. Italy will introduce a tax of € 0.45 / kg on non-recycled plastic packaging from the end of 2020, while Spain and the UK plan to introduce similar taxes in the next few years.
These legislative measures have prompted companies in the petrochemical and packaging industries to set increasingly ambitious sustainable development goals, which often go beyond the EU minimums. From the end of 2020, Italy will introduce a tax of € 0.45 / kg on non-recyclable plastic packaging.
Many plastic bottle manufacturers are aiming to recycle at least 50% of their materials by 2030, or are switching to other materials, such as bio-based or non-plastic based alternatives.
Packaging manufacturers using materials such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) have also investigated switching to other materials, including PET, due to the perception, caused by high collection rates, that R -PET material – especially food grade material – is abundant.
However, this view is incorrect. Despite the fact that in 2018 the collection rate was 63%, the growth rate of collection decreased to less than 3% per year. ICIS analysis shows that in order to reach the SUP target of 77%, the annual growth rate must be 9% per annum, and this does not even take into account the increase in pollution in the region.
According to market estimates, due to cross-contamination with other plastics and losses due to the mechanical process, the average loss rate across Europe has increased from 25% to about 30-35%.
At the same time, other sectors, such as fiber and chemical projects, are increasingly looking to increase the share of household waste, which is likely to exacerbate existing shortages.
R-PET is the most established, widely sold and has the most developed infrastructure of any recycled polymer, and any shortage of R-PET is magnified in other markets. ”
300,000 tons / year
An additional constraint for the plastic bottle market is the lack of R-PET FGP production, which currently stands at about 300,000 tonnes per year in Europe, or about 9% of the total demand for PET plastic bottles.
Production capacity for R-PET for food will expand with limited projects starting in 2021, but investment is still required to scale up capacity at the same pace as demand. R-PET FGP use should triple from 2018 volumes to reach the SUP target of 25%, which is clearly a challenge for the industry given the pandemic low primary value and the macroeconomics it faces.
Combined with this, to obtain EFSA approval, 95% of the materials used in recycling must come from food contact applications and must be fully traceable throughout the entire value chain.
For R-PET, the main raw material is plastic beverage bottles, so
The 95% threshold is currently not a problem. But for other recycled material
where several forms of waste are collected on the roadside, proof that the origin of the material reaches the 95% threshold is not acceptable.
For R-PE, for example, the only source of post-consumer food pellets is the UK, where milk bottles provide an easily separable waste stream.
Structural material shortages, along with technical constraints such as material opacity and loss of tensile strength, have prompted companies to explore other ways to achieve sustainability commitments such as chemical recycling or biological materials.
FGP use should triple from 2018 volumes to reach the SUP target of 25%, which is clearly a challenge for the industry given the pandemic and the macroeconomic conditions it faces.
The appeal of chemical recycling is that it allows material to be recycled to nearly identical properties to the original material and allows companies to bypass traceability requirements for EFSA approval.
It will also circumvent the tensile strength limitations of mechanical plastics processing.
Plastics generally cannot be recycled endlessly mechanically because every time they pass through the system, they reduce the tensile strength of the material until it eventually becomes so weak that it breaks – the number of cycles. which it takes is different for each material.
However, there is concern among mechanical processors that since most chemical recycling processes rely on some form of sorting and separation, this will increase competition for better quality waste, which is already in short supply.
The misconception about chemical recyclers is that this process allows them to accept any kind of waste and that they usually use material that is not suitable for mechanical processing.
This would give them access to a huge amount of potential waste reserves and would allow them to quickly expand the process and provide the company with the necessary materials to achieve their goals. This is far from the current reality for most chemical recyclers.
Household waste bales typically contain contaminants from materials such as wood, metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that are incompatible with most chemical processing processes.
These materials must be sorted and separated prior to processing, as with mechanical processing, except that the high temperatures and pressures used make efficient sorting even more important.
Some processes also require humidity limitation.
Separating and sorting is an expensive and highly professional process and remains one of the major challenges in all processing.
Recycling chemicals remains unproven on a large scale, and while it remains an exciting technology, there is no guarantee that it will be the solution to meeting the 2030 recycling targets.
Because of the cost and problems associated with sorting and separation, most chemical recycling facilities are not targeting low-quality waste, but the same waste streams that are commonly used in mechanical recycling.
There are even pilot chemical processing plants that use recycled floc to avoid contamination.
If chemical recyclers are chasing the same waste bales, then the source problems faced by the mechanical recycling industry will simply be reflected in the chemical recycling.
The legal status of chemical processing is also discussed. While EFSA has approved some chemically processed food materials, it remains unclear how this material will be handled on a larger scale.
Combined with this, it is estimated by many chemical processors that it will take at least 5-10 years for chemical processing to reach commercial scale in the marketplace, which may be too late to reach brand targets, and technical issues related to yield remain. and the cost to overcome. … Another key uncertainty remains the life-cycle impact of chemical processing on the environment.