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WASTE PLASTICS RECYCLING A GOOD PRACTICES GUIDE

BY AND FOR LOCAL & REGIONAL AUTHORITIES

Evidence suggests that the use of other types of plastic bags increased significantly, as householders
buy bags to use for purposes previously fulfilled by free supermarket bags.
So while it cannot necessarily be claimed that plastics consumption has fallen because of this
economic instrument, it is likely that littering has reduced.

Legal obligations
A well established legal framework governing many aspects of waste management and environment
protection provides a powerful driving force to use resources more sustainably and to increase recycling.
The European Union directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (94/62/EC) is a pertinent example
of this effect (see below). As a result, all EU member states have national systems to collect,
recycle and recover packaging wastes.
However, the approaches adopted when implementing these pan-European Union policies is not the
same in every country. There are some cases, such as the Netherlands, where the culture favours
voluntary agreements (although these too need to be supported by legal instruments); in these
countries, it is less important to rely on legislative instruments alone to reach high recycling rates.
In contrast, countries such as Germany have chosen to adopt command-and-control policies that
introduce mandatory targets to ensure that national and European obligations are met.
In order to reduce the environmental impacts of growing waste streams, the European legislature
has introduced a number of obligations on certain waste products, which must be respected by all
the member states. Those Directives that incorporate aspects relating to waste plastics include:
Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC)
End-of-Life Vehicles Directive (2000/53/EC)
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (2002/96/EC)
Landfill Directive (99/31/EC)
Directive on Packaging (94/62/EC)
At the European level, the only explicit reference concerning the recycling of the waste plastics is
Council Directive 94/62/EC (15 December 1994) on packaging and packaging waste [Official Journal
L 365, 31.12.1994]. This directive covers inter alia plastic packaging waste and obliges Member
States to recover 50 - 60 per cent, and to recycle 25 - 45 per cent of all the packaging sold.
A minimum recycling rate of 15 per cent by weight for each packaging material must be reached.
The deadline to achieve those objectives was 30/06/2001, except for Ireland, Portugal and Greece
for which the deadline is the 31/12/2006.
This Directive is currently being revised and recycling objectives will be modified, and the mandated
recycling rate for plastics is likely to be set at 22.5 per cent in weight, effective from 31/12/2008.
Directive 2000/53/CE on End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV)
This directive does not refer directly to a plastic recycling obligation. However, the Directive defines
a global recycling and reuse target of 80 per cent for 2006, and 95 per cent for 2015. It is estimated
that a typical car manufactured in 1989 contains about 70kg, while a car made in 2000 contains
around 106 kg7 .

7- Information System on Plastic Waste Management in Europe European Overview 2000 Data Taylor Nelson Sofres for APME March 2002

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WASTE PLASTICS RECYCLING A GOOD PRACTICES GUIDE


BY AND FOR LOCAL & REGIONAL AUTHORITIES

In the long term, the ELV directive will demand the recycling of an increasing fraction of the plastics
contained in vehicles.
It will be important to identify those components which can be recycled in an eco-efficient way, or
otherwise recovered as a source of fuel.
Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (2002/96/EC)
The Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) will force distributors to ensure
that such waste can be returned at least free of charge. Ten categories of WEEE are defined by the
instrument, with mandatory reuse and recycling rates varying between 50 and 75 per cent by
weight, and recovery rates of between 70 and 80 per cent.
This directive will lead to the need to recycle at least parts of the plastic from the WEEE.
Directive on landfills
The EU landfill directive does not address plastics, although it sets diversion targets for municipal
biodegradable wastes. Through increasing of the costs of traditional final disposal, recycling in
general will become increasingly attractive from an economical point of view.

Issues affecting the recycling of waste plastics


The broad variety of different types of plastics
The variety of different polymers must be taken into account as an important element in planning
waste collection, separation and reprocessing activities. A particular plastic type
can have many different appearances and characteristics. For example, PVC can be
hard (window frames, pipes) or soft (insulation for electrical wires or flooring).
Polystyrene (PS) may be transparent (CD boxes) or opaque (coffee cup), and can
be expanded (EPS) to serve as thermal insulator or as shock resistant packaging.
To be mechanically recycled into valuable goods and to optimise recycling
efficiency, collected materials must be as homogeneous or pure as possible.
The best way to achieve this objective is to apply selective collection, and to
eliminate unsuitable resins at a sorting plant.
Collection, Sorting and Contamination
It is more difficult to obtain homogeneous streams from household waste
plastics because of the variety of products and polymer types used. Despite the
presence of identifying marks on plastics packaging, complete manual separation
is difficult to achieve because of the speed of sorting lines and the variety of
materials.
The main obstacle is the presence of thin, lightweight plastics contaminated with food residues.
For these items, the energy and resources needed for cleaning and recycling may not be justifiable
in economic or environmental terms. This is the reason that virtually all selective collection schemes
for household waste focus on plastic bottles; these constitute a significant proportion by weight
of plastic household packaging waste, mostly polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or high density
polyethylene (HDPE). Moreover, they are relatively easy to identify and to separate by automatic
methods, often based on infra-red detection.

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