Waste to Wealth: Unlocking the Value of Plastic Recycling

Unlocking Plastic Recycling

A Push towards Plastic Recycling: Unlocking the Value of Plastic Recycling

Where do you think the plastic bottle you threw this morning ended up? Does it truly get a second chance at life, or is it destined for a landfill or, worse, our oceans?

By 2040, plastic production is set to double, with plastic pollution expected to triple. According to the Plastic Overshoot Day 2028 report, The global average consumption of plastic per person per year is 20.9 kg, with a total worldwide consumption of 158,943,925 tons per year. Iceland is the top generator of plastic waste, with a yearly consumption of 128.9 kg per person.

After a stagnation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global plastics production increased to 394 million tonnes in 2021.

Unlocking the Value of Plastic Recycling: European Plastic Recycling

Plastic recycling today is complex; countries have varying capacities to effectively manage the plastic waste they generate, with some having more advanced waste management systems than others. The world’s recycled plastics production continued to increase in 2022, reaching 35.5 Mt, or an 8.9% share of overall global plastics production, with Europe accounting for 21% of global recycled plastics production.  The European Union’s Plastics Strategy and the subsequent regulations provide a timeline that provides a blueprint for other nations coping with the same issue.

Europe Plastic Recycling

In 2018, the European Union took a significant step forward in the battle against plastic waste by launching its Plastics Strategy.

In 2018, this ambitious initiative established a strategic goal: to recycle half of all plastic packaging by 2025, a stark contrast to the current global recycling rate of a mere 10%. A year later, in 2019, the EU Green Deal further heightened the urgency of this issue.

The EU Green Deal emphasized the necessity for a comprehensive European recycling system that integrates chemical recycling. This demonstration showcased the EU’s commitment to foster a clean, circular economy where it utilizes resources efficiently and minimizes waste.

Fast forward to 2020, and the EU is taking a more punitive approach to non-recycled plastic packaging waste. They introduced a Plastic Tax of eight hundred Euros per tonne, a substantial financial deterrent designed to encourage recycling.

In 2021, the EU tightened regulations on its exports of plastic waste. This move echoed its commitment to tackling the plastic crisis at home rather than exporting it to other countries. In 2023, the EU announced its Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, applicable to listed Small and Medium Enterprises as of the FY 2026.

This directive will additionally ensure that companies actively take responsibility for their environmental impact, encompassing both the utilization and disposal of plastics. Innovations such as chemical recycling and solvent dissolution provide the potential for complementary recycling methods to mechanical recycling.

Chemical recycling is essential for producing enough high-quality recycled plastics for complex applications or high safety requirements, such as food contact, automotive, and building and construction materials. In 2022, Europe produced more than 50% of the chemically recycled plastics globally. 



Fostering the use of recycled plastics and increasing their use in various applications is essential to accelerate the progress towards a circular and climate-neutral plastics economy.The Plastics Europe report reveals that 45.2% of recyclates in the EU28+2 find application in the building and construction sector, where high-performance and durable products are essential. 

Additionally, 30% of recyclates are utilized in packaging products and applications for common household and industrial use. There is potential for an increase in this percentage when food contact material regulations align with circular economy principles, and a broader range of recyclates meets product specifications. A notable 11% of recyclates in the EU28+2 serve agriculture and gardening applications, encompassing items like compost bins, rain barrels, and irrigation pipes.

In 2020, converted plastic parts and products had a post-consumer recycled content of about 8.5%. This represents an increase of 1.3 percentage points compared to 2018, showing an initial shift towards a higher share of recycled plastics in new products.

The agriculture sector has the highest recycled plastic content rate in its products (22.8%), followed by the building and construction sector (16.5%). Compared to 2018, the quantities of recycled plastics used in packaging, building and construction, agriculture, farming, and gardening increased by 43%, 15%, and 3%, respectively.


What progress are companies making on plastic recycling?

Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The EU’s Plastics Strategy and regulations showcase their dedication to environmental sustainability. It serves as a shining example to other nations and global brands, many of which have already begun to make public commitments to use recycled plastics. But the fight against plastic waste is far from over. It requires the collective efforts of governments, corporations, and individuals alike.

1 thoughts on “Waste to Wealth: Unlocking the Value of Plastic Recycling

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *