Launched today during the Plastics webinar of the online BIR World Recycling Week, the “Recycling Plastics: Facts, Data and Policy Recommendations” establishes the contribution of plastics to everyday life but also examines the environmental and economic harm created during their end-of-life phase. “Essentially, what makes plastics useful is exactly what makes them harmful: they persist,” the report states. It then explains in detail how recycling can play a major role in resolving the problems associated with plastics reaching the end of their useful lives.
It is a disappointing reality that only around 10% of all the plastics ever produced have been recycled; today, even the most developed economies have plastics recycling rates only as high as 30%. And yet as the report shows, recycling is more environmentally efficient than landfill or incineration with energy recovery; it displaces prime plastics on the market and thus eliminates the more energy-intensive and environmentally-destructive methods used to extract virgin materials, generating significantly lower CO2 emissions. Indeed, researchers calculate that recycling uses up to 76% less energy compared to sending the same materials to landfills or incinerators and making new products from scratch.
Describing recycling as “a systematically under-used form of waste management”, the report provides a platform for BIR to call on governments to set up a favourable environment for plastics recycling and to increase the quality of recyclables collected – for example, through extended producer responsibility schemes, banning the use of prohibited chemicals in plastics, enforcing mandatory recycled content quotas and establishing clear end-of-waste criteria for recycled plastics, as such helping to set high quality standards.
However, recycling forms only part of the circular economy and so BIR also identifies a need to bring together the whole plastics industry value chain to work collaboratively to close the loop, allowing plastics to shift from a linear production and functionality model to a circular one. Through the report, BIR urges manufacturers and producers to work with recyclers on design for recycling, thus allowing easier sorting of collected scrap and ensuring higher levels of recyclability.
Chairman of the BIR Plastics Committee, Henk Alssema of Vita Plastics in the Netherlands, comments: “At BIR, we are very happy and proud to present this report to you. In a very clear and accessible way, it provides insight into how plastics recycling is organized. It also invites the industry, manufacturers and governments to work together with the aim of closing the loops and propelling the recycling of plastics to an even higher level.”