Europe risks falling short of its plastics recycling targets


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2023 saw a sharp turn in the growth of the plastics recycling industry. Since the beginning of the year, prices of recycled plastics have decreased by up to 50%, while cheap imports of materials from outside of the EU have significantly increased.

If urgent measures are not taken to alleviate the pressure on the European recyclers, repercussions would be significant – leading to the shutdown of recycling plants across the EU and having knock-on effects on jobs, the overall economy, and most importantly the environment. Not only that, it would also call into question the realization of the targets set forth by the EU Green Deal, as Europe works toward carbon neutrality.

There is, nevertheless, an answer to this challenge with the introduction of certification mechanisms and enforcement measures to complement the legislative requirements.

Market state of play before the 2023 downturn

Despite the slow-down of activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, paired with the rise of energy costs, plastics recyclers remained resilient in the recent years. This was largely due to strong legislative support which brought an increased certainty for the transition toward a circular economy for plastics.

In 2021, the total installed plastics recycling capacity in EU27+3 reached 11.3 million tonnes – increasing by as much as 33% since 2019. More than 7 million tonnes of recycled plastic material were fed back to the market, resulting in a decrease in CO2 emissions equivalent to all passenger cars in Belgium in the same year.


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