Topic 3 Europe and plastic waste management

In the EU, plastic is mainly used to produce packaging (40%), then consumer & household goods (22%) and in buildings & constructions (20%).

While the plastic waste treatment is as follow:

  • Incinerated 39%
  • Landfilled 31%
  • Recycled 30%

As can be seen, less than 1/3 of the plastic production in EU countries is recycled.

Plastic waste per EU Member State

According to data from 2016, plastic waste varies from 14 to 60kg/capita depending on the country.

Countries with the highest plastic waste rate in kg/capita are Ireland, Luxembourg and Estonia.

However, the countries that have the highest plastic waste rate in tons/country are Germany, Italy, UK and France.

Recycling rate of plastic packaging waste per EU Member State.

Countries such as Sweden, Netherlands, The Czech Republic and Slovakia have a 50-60% recycling rate for plastics.

Countries such as France, Finland and Estonia have lower recycling rate for plastics (below 30%).

The countries with the highest recycling rate for plastics are Lithuania (>70%) and Slovenia (60-70%).

What about circularity?

Collecting, sorting and recycling plastics is beneficial to economy and environment but it is challenged by capacity and modernization across Europe.

There is significant untapped potential in processing used plastics, in terms of increasing volumes, quality and yield of reprocessed plastics. Improvements are partly driven by technical innovations, including automated and robotics-powered collection and sorting, and novel chemical recycling methods to obtain virgin-grade plastics. Chemical recycling of plastics could play an important role by expanding the ability to treat complex material streams and providing virgin-quality recycled materials. In addition, the use of compostable material in selected applications could enable organic recycling of bio-waste.

Poorly functioning markets for recycled plastics is one of the biggest barriers facing a circular plastics economy, presenting a challenge to improving global recycling rates. The raw feedstocks for most plastics are fossil fuels, which are currently cheaper to use than recycled materials.

The circular economy framework requires fundamentally new approaches to the underlying business models and product designs related to plastics. Concepts such as eco-design and product-service systems challenge the current linear production and consumption paradigm through elimination or reuse, in line with the waste hierarchy.