Resource (in)efficiency in the EU: a case of plastic waste
Keywordsplastic waste, circular economy, recycling
Motivation: Plastics are versatile materials with applications in numerous sectors. They contribute to effective resource protection during their usage phase but a great challenge is increasing amount of unmanaged plastic waste and its environmental impact. Meanwhile, plastic waste is a valuable raw material. Appropriate management reduces environmental pressure and brings economic benefits. The transition to circularity is a strategic objective of the EU but it involves numerous obstacles. This article deals with these issues.
Aim: The purpose of the article is to indicate the scale of losses in one of key waste stream — plastic waste — by looking at origin, way of collection and treatment of end-of-use plastics. The analysis aims to show the level of recycling in relation to the demand for plastic (as commonly used recycling indicator refers only to the plastic waste collected), the way the plastic waste is managed in various sectors and the specific barriers to its recycling.
Results: Recycling of plastic waste accounts for only about 5–10% of the total demand for plastic. Overall, post-consumer plastic waste collected for treatment constitutes 49% of plastics production. 32.5% of those collected plastics is recycled, compared with 25% of plastics landfilled and 42.5% recovered for energy. Still a lot of plastic waste is exported to developing countries, some is hidden in untracked trade flow or illegal landfills. The EU is shifting from linear to circular approach but it is only the beginning of economic transformation towards plastics circularity.
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