PRE concerned at EU recyclate imports direction

  • Market: Petrochemicals
  • 27/02/24

EU policymakers would be "sending a misleading message that investments in the European plastics recycling value chain are not worth making" by allowing imported recyclates to contribute towards recycled content requirements without "reliable control and verification mechanisms implemented", trade body Plastic Recyclers Europe (PRE) said.

The Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which includes recycle content requirements for almost all plastic packaging, "is meant to enhance circularity by… creating a market for recycled products", PRE said. But "the policy direction taken in the trilogues is making the initial optimism fade away".

A leaked draft of the European Commission's implementing decision last week appeared to open the door for imported post-consumer recyclates to count towards recycled content targets in the Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD), which will come into force for PET beverage bottles from next year.

As listed in the leaked draft European Commission document, post-consumer plastic waste that is allowed to means "waste… that is plastic and that has been generated from plastic products that have been supplied for distribution, consumption or use on the market of a member state or of a third country". This was updated from the previous implementation decision, which only defined post-consumer plastic waste as "waste… that is plastic and that has been generated from plastic products that have been placed on the market", interpreted by many in the industry to mean that only recyclates produced from post-consumer waste generated within the EU could count towards the targets.

The same definition change was also proposed with respect to the upcoming Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), which extends recycled content requirements to other packaging types, Argus understands. Negotiators from EU member states and the EU Parliament are undergoing "trilogue" meetings to negotiate a compromised between their positions on PPWR, the final one of which is scheduled to take place on 4 March.

"Increasing imports of recycled plastics into the EU are creating an unbalanced market with serious environmental consequences", it said. This is because it would discourage investment in new recycling capacity which could result in more European plastic waste being directed to incineration or landfill.

Destabilisation

Recyclers' operating rates came under pressure in 2023 as a challenging economic environment weighed on demand in most important plastic-consuming sectors in 2023 and a reduction in virgin polymer prices stiffened competition in many of their key markets.

This "destabilisation" caused EU plastic waste exports to rise by 18pc year on year, PRE said. But plastic waste exports from the EU are soon set to be further restricted under revised Waste Shipment Regulations. A final version is scheduled to be voted on in today's EU plenary session — boosting the need for local processing capacity to hit the bloc's recycling targets.

PRE cited a study by consultancy Systemiq projecting that strong investment in PET recycling infrastructure could lift recycling rates for PET packaging and textiles to 67pc by 2040, whereas with no investment the recycling rates would only reach 32pc.

PRE has previously said tighter traceability controls on products from outside the EU to create a "level playing field" for local European recyclers. "EU recyclers are subject to robust legislation and safety requirements, which on the contrary cannot always be verified for the imported material," it said last year, calling for "independent third-party certifications" for extra-EU recyclers to verify the origin of waste and the recycling methods used to reprocess it.


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