Higher quality plastics recycling is necessary

Recycling-friendly design, higher recycling rates and minimum recyclate quotas can conserve resources

Das Wort Recycling vor schwarzem Hintergrund, darauf auch ausrangierte Kühlaggregate.Click to enlarge
The German Environment Agency's new magazine focuses on recycling in the 1-2018 issue.
Source: Umweltbundesamt / Paul Bulteel www.paulbulteel.eu

The rate of plastics recycling in Germany is still too low, claims the new issue of the What Matters [Schwerpunkt: Recycling] series publication by the German Environment Agency (UBA). The publication examines the circular economy in Germany. In 2017, just under 46 percent of plastics were recovered for mechanical recycling, generating 1.9 million tonnes of recyclates. "Plastic recyclates must be reused to the highest possible quality. Shampoo bottles should be recycled to become shampoo bottles, for this is the only way to conserve plastic as a valuable resource. This requires products to be recyclable and that we boost the demand for plastic recyclates," said UBA's President Maria Krautzberger.

Recycling-friendly product design is key: monomaterial products (made of only one type of plastic) are easier to recycle than products made of several different materials. Fillers such as chalk should also be avoided because it complicates sorting at the recycling plant. Light-coloured or colourless plastics are better than multicoloured or dark, because dark plastics only produce a grey recyclate which then needs to be dyed darker. In contrast, light-coloured plastics can be used in a wider range of applications.

Plastic packaging which is typically discarded among private end users at usual sites – schools, canteens and hospitals – must achieve a recycling quota of 58.5 percent as of 2019, and then 63 percent starting 2022 (mechanical recycling). UBA proposes that, in addition to the plastics-specific quotas for packaging, specific recycling quotas for plastic should also be established for other waste streams, e.g. electrical and electronic equipment.

The new Packaging Act already states that disposal fees must be calculated based on how readily recyclable the packaging is. Other standards concerning minimum quality or classification of recyclate quality could help producers to more easily recognize which recyclates are suited for their particular products. An expansion of the compulsory deposit on packaging to include juice bottles might offer the solution to more unmixed collection of plastics.

However, these measures are only ecologically and economically viable provided there is a greater demand for recyclates on the market. Certain guidelines in public procurement could have a steering effect. Public authorities should give preference to plastic products which contain recyclates, for example in office items such as trays, folders and building products. Voluntary initiatives by industry or requirements of a minimum share of recyclates in products (e.g. waste bins) could also provide a solution.

Recycling is usualy the best option in waste recovery in ecological terms, but it is better to avoid waste in the first place. Products should therefore be designed to be durable, reusable and repairable.

Further information:

The Schwerpunkt: Recycling publication will be released on 14 December. UBA's biannual "What Matters" publication reports on current topics in environmental protection. The next issue will be published in May 2019.

The declared goal of the EU Plastics Strategy is to recycle at least half of all plastic waste by 2030. Based on research outcome, UBA recommends a mechanical recycling quota of 55 percent for total plastic waste by 2030.

The Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister ZSVR (Central Packaging Registry) will begin operations on 1.1.2019. All producers who put packaging into commercial circulation on the German market for the first time which is typically diposed of by private end users must register. If they fail to do so they may not introduce any packaging on the market. The ZSVR also monitors the financial requirements of more sustainable packaging and compliance with recycling quotas and will thereby ensure higher quality recycling.

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