Waste plastics value chain – strategic issues

19 September 2023


Elizabeth Carroll, Consultant, Recycling and Sustainability

‘The previous few years have seen a hostile and negative attitude towards plastics become the opinion of the everyday consumer. Thus, what was once an industry overlooked by those not participating, has now become daily tabloid cannon fodder. It is with this social environmental landscape that the waste management and plastics recycling industry is currently operating and making plans for its future.

Diversity of waste collection systems causes a major bottleneck for recycling inputs. Greater harmonisation, although challenging to achieve, will be of great benefit to the recycling sector. It will enable better and optimised sorting, and ultimately result in higher quality bales of separated feedstock to serve as inputs into the recycling process, whether that be chemical or mechanical. For the recycling of flexible polyolefin household packaging in particular, the lack of collection infrastructure for plastic films, coupled with ageing material recovery facility’s sorting technology unable to positively sort the flexibles that are collected, causes lack of supply of flexible plastic feedstock for recycling.

Investments into new recycling facilities, and increased capacity in those already operational, have far exceeded the developments in municipal collection infrastructure and sorting facilities, and until the infrastructure to capture plastic waste catches up, demand will outstrip supply for certain grades of waste. This will inevitably cause competition for feedstock between all recyclers whether mechanical or chemical, with the winners being those who have already integrated themselves with waste management companies, by partnership and acquisition or having long-term supply contracts.’

Elizabeth will be presenting at our forthcoming event Plastic Sustainability Strategies, 5-6 December 2023 in Düsseldorf, Germany. Book your place