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Huge investment needed to meet EU 2025 plastics recycling goal

Brussels — Huge investment in polyethylene terephthalate recycling infrastructure, as well as collection and sorting infrastructure is needed if the EU is to meet its 2025 targets on recycled plastics, Plastics Recyclers Europe Vice President Casper van den Dungen said Wednesday.

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Around 520,000 mt of new recycling capacity, equivalent to roughly 20 new plants, would be needed to process waste PET if EU countries were to meet the EU's target of 77% collection of PET beverage bottles by 2025, van den Dungen said at the Petcore Europe Annual Conference in Brussels.

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The target, set out in the EU's single use plastics directive, also requires the industry to incorporate 25% recycled PET in plastic bottles by 2025. He added that the current lead time for building a new recycling plant is around 12 months, so the industry would have to invest quickly if enough capacity were to be operational by 2025.

Recycling capacity is not the only hurdle to overcome to meet the directive. Another common theme among speakers at the conference put forward was the collection and sorting of plastic waste.

Deposit return schemes are recognized as the most effective way of securing substantial supply of usable feedstock. However, these systems take time and investment to implement. Currently, five countries are expected to introduce deposit return schemes by 2025. They include Scotland, Romania, Malta, Portugal, and England and Wales.

However, analysis by Plastic Recyclers Europe indicates that even with the extra supply created by these new deposit return schemes, the EU as a whole may still fall short of the amount of supply needed to meet the 25% minimum content required by 2025. In 2019, PRS estimated total EU rPET supply to be around 1.3 million mt. If the countries introducing deposit return schemes achieved similar results to existing schemes in Europe, which can be up to 90% collection rates, the analysis presented at the conference estimated that the EU market might still be 400,000 mt short of the supply required to hit the 77% collection target and so may be unable to satisfy 25% minimum rPET content in plastic bottles from EU material alone.