26 March 2018 by Steve Eminton

European data signals slower growth in plastics recycling

Packaging recycling organisations on the European Continent have reported slow growth in the recycling of plastic packaging to 40.9% in figures released today (26 March).

The data, compiled by Conversion, has been released by the PlasticsEurope organisation working with EPRO. The latter is an organisation made up mainly by European bodies which have a responsibility to ensure recycling of packaging takes place – the UK member of EPRO is the plastics recycling promotional body, RECOUP.


Recycling on the Continent has edged up above the 40% mark (picture: Shutterstock)

The research shows how the recycling rate in Europe has stagnated with the rate rising by just 1.4% in two years, up from 39.5% in 2014 to 40.9% in 2016.

EPRO claimed that this shows that “the national recycling schemes in Europe, based on extended producer responsibility manage well.”

Target success

In terms of the regulations based on the EU directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste, all EU 28 + 2 countries in 2016 exceeded the EU minimum targets of 22.5% recycling. 26 countries (24 in 2014) recycled more than 30%; 15 countries surpassed 40%. In 2014, the Czech Republic ranked as highest performer with a recycling rate of 51.2% followed by Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and Spain. This meant, said EPRO, that  6.8m tonnes of plastic was recycled which is equivalent to 40.9%, of its 16.7m tonnes of plastic packaging waste in 2016, “easily surpassing” the EU’s minimum target of 22.5%.

Stuart Foster, chief executive of RECOUP and EPRO director said of the report: “There is unparalleled interest and focus on plastic packaging resource management at the moment. These statistics are fundamental in understanding the current position across Europe and possible ways forwards around household, commercial and agricultural sector plastic packaging recycling.

Analysing the figures, EPRO said that 64% of the post-consumer plastic packaging waste generated was from households while the remaining 36% came  from the trade/industry segment. The recycling rate for both the trade and industry sector reached 46.5% (42.8% in 2014), while recycling for the household segment stood at 37.8% (37.7%).

Types of collection

Looking across Europe, the plastics organisation said: “The following EPRO countries include all kinds of plastic packaging in their collection schemes for households: Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, in a separate plastics fraction, together with other lightweight packaging (yellow bin) or sorted out at central sorting plants for residual waste.”


Recycling levels vary across the Continent

EPRO added: “In other countries like Austria and UK, some parts of the country collect all plastic packaging while other regions concentrate on just rigid plastic packaging. Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have in addition a deposit system for most of the beverage bottles.

“In Belgium, France and Switzerland, extended producer responsibility systems focus on rigid plastics (bottles), but France is about to expand, step by step, the scope of the system to comprise all plastic packaging. How to sort, recycle and recover mixed streams of plastic packaging is a key topic for EPRO working groups. In addition, design for recycling is also a key issue for EPRO and now also a key issue mentioned in the new EU Plastic strategy.”

And, the recycling result for packaging of 40.9% is better than for other plastic applications. The overall recycling rate for plastics reached 31.1% in 2016. Packaging thus lift the average recycling rates for all plastics in Europe, EPRO says.

UK figure

In the UK, RECOUP has reported (see letsrecycle.com story) a collection rate in 2016 for all types of plastic bottles of 58%, with a 32% rate for plastic puts, tubs and trays. The organisation also said then that other EU countries report as having a 90%+ household drinks bottle or PET plastic bottle collection rate by using a deposit return (DRS) scheme.


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