21 September 2021

Flexible film recycling capacity grows despite COVID

European plastic recycling industry registered nearly a 10% increase in installed plastic recycling capacity for flexible film in 2020, demonstrating a solid growth despite the COVID pandemic that resulted in severe disruptions on the waste management market.

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According to Plastic Recyclers Europe, the new estimate points to 2.7Mt capacity for PE film recycling with 30 new film recycling facilities, totalling 218.

Representing a demand of more than 9 million tonnes, Linear Low Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)/ low density polyethylene (LDPE) is the second-largest plastic fraction in the EU market and therefore shows a major recycling potential.

Today 17% of recycled flexible polyethylene already finds outlet in film-to-film applications with non-food packaging and building & construction being its largest markets, while the forecasts show that PE film products could incorporate overall as much as 38% of recycled content by 2030.

'Once deemed difficult to recycle, flexible household polyethylene waste recycling is a successful business case model of today,' says Ton Emans, President of Plastics Recyclers Europe and PRE LDPE-Working Group Chairman.

'Fast-paced technological developments in collection, sorting and recycling, made it possible to recycle film back to film. Closed-loop recycling is the future of circular flexible plastic, placing Europe as a front runner of mechanical film recycling.

'This is a strong signal not only for investors but also brand owners, retailers, policy-makers and citizens.

'This does not mean that there are no challenges. The main obstacles in targeting new high-end applications are multi-layer & multi-material products, which are not in line with the Design for Recycling principles.'

Plastic Recyclers Europe reports that the growth of flexible plastic recycling, however, is set to expand thanks to the ongoing positive trends.

Firstly, with extended collection schemes being implemented across the Member States to reach the EU recycling targets, the collection of flexible plastic film from households is set to grow.

Secondly, better sorting technologies paired with the effort of EPR systems and sorting centres generate mono-material streams, gradually decreasing mixed polyolefin fraction.

Lastly, with flexible plastic value chain players’ commitments to improving the recyclability of plastics, as well as incorporating recycled plastics in their products, demand for high-quality recycled flexible PE will further grow.