Only around 12% of the total plastics waste generated within the EU is actually recycled inside its borders while some 38% is still going to landfill, attendees of the recent Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) World Recycling Convention & Exhibition in Miami.
So long as recycling is conducted in an environmentally sound manner, “let the markets decide the flow of goods”, urged BIR Plastics Committee Chairman Surendra Borad of Belgium-based Gemini Corporation in his introductory comments.
It was also noted that over 40 countries worldwide have adopted protectionist measures to limit or halt scrap exports - including some European nations. For example, Spain’s Waste Act of 2012 allows retailers and banks among others to demand that their waste be recycled within Europe.
According to Borad, the reason Europe is still landfilling 38% of its waste plastics is because it “does not have enough capacity to recycle it”.
He went on to caution against restrictions. “If there are any restrictions whatsoever, prices will collapse and collection of scrap will go down,” he said, adding that this would defeat the EU’s goal of creating a resource efficient economy.
In his report on the Indian market, Borad said that the recent election of a pro-business government could lead to an increase in the number of companies granted plastics scrap import licences.
End of the ‘Green Fence’?
Meanwhile, and despite suggestions that the Green Fence initiative has come to an end, the president of the China Scrap Plastic Association, Dr Steve Wong, contended that his country’s commitment to preventing imports of contaminated material will surely endure.
He also indicated that import tariffs of 6.5% and VAT of 17% have weakened China’s competitiveness in terms of recyclable plastics procurement. Rising labour costs have also dented China’s overall ability to compete.
On a similar theme, Gregory Cardot of Veolia said that customs controls have also been intensified in Europe.
Cultural differences were said to have influenced the recycling rates achieved in different countries around the world, argued Tamsin Ettefagh, vice president of sales and purchasing at North America’s second-largest HDPE recycler Envision Plastics.
Fellow guest speaker James Glauser, senior consultant at U.S. based information business IHS, underlined the same point by calculating that recycling rates for all PET consumed vary from less than 20% in some parts of the world to a high of around 40% in Central and South America.
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