Plastics – much too precious to be incinerated!
While acknowledging the goodwill behind the "eco" drive, many plastics players dismiss the trend as simply not feasible, pointing to technical impossibilities and economic shortcomings.

That opposition may become a thing of the past. After all, the current polyolefins crisis in Europe and the shift in the global feedstock balance shines a new light on the European plastics processing sector’s dilemma of securing competitively priced feedstock. The region is lacking both the Arab world’s "stranded gas" as well as the cheap "shale gas" found in the US – at least for now, as passionate battles over the latter’s extraction continue being waged in the UK. And what little coal remains is much too expensive, a realisation at which China also recently arrived. We thus remain dependent on the chronically shrinking output of oil refineries or have to rely on imports of material from across the entire value chain.

At times like these, it sometimes helps to adopt a broader perspective. About 50% of the paper produced in Europe is based on recycled paper, and even 33% of glass manufactured in the region is based on used glass. Even Europe’s steel sector currently reuses about 50% of its waste – a figure that was sheer impossible for this gigantic industry in the 1960s. No way, we need the good ore and the blast furnace coke to guarantee material quality, the argument went. History proves that there was indeed another way, which managed to assert itself thanks to strong economic pressures.

Today at most 4% of the plastics used in Europe are sourced from the recycling stream – and even that is an optimistic estimate, experts say. The main obstacles are rooted in logistical and internal company structures as well as questions about organisation brought about by the existing market regulations. There are no technical obstacles to the recycling of plastics – in fact it is much easier to reuse than many other materials. Large-scale plastics recycling does, however, require that plastics producers adopt an entirely new approach. If, given their global interests, they are not able to make the change, then the authorities should offer economic incentives to support their processing industry – which incidentally is not only much bigger than that of the producers but also of much more importance to the European economy.

Without falling prey to the recycling lobby’s propaganda, it is high time that we look at plastic scraps as a viable feedstock source rather than leave them to fill the belly of recycling giant China. We simply can no longer afford to export these valuable materials.

Daniel Stricker
KI editor-in-chief
29.06.2015 [231436-0]
Published on 29.06.2015

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