Recycling crisis at the time of Corona

Posted on 25 May 2020

Diligently sorted plastic to the incinerator  

Reuse is one of the most applied principles of circular economics. Recycling therefore often leads to innovative cleantech solutions.  But also recyclability and recycling capacity are finite. An undesired effect of the corona crisis once again demonstrates this. Producing additional virgin material is simply easier than tackling the creation of the waste stream at source in the short term.  
Plastic is mainly made from petroleum. This oil price is historically low because of the corona crisis. As a result, the production of 'new' plastic has become much cheaper. ‘New' plastic is becoming economically more interesting for companies that need plastic for packaging materials, or for products such as toys, electronics, clothing.... 
This means that the companies that recycle used plastic may suffer as a result. After all, the fixed costs for collection and processing remain just as high, but the customers of recycled plastic - who themselves may be in trouble because of the corona crisis - will almost automatically choose the cheapest material when they restart.
The water is on the lips of many Belgian companies that are active in the processing of plastic waste.Maarten Geerts of the sector federation Go4circle says about this in De Standaard: 'They have to deal with the supply of sorted waste, but cannot get rid of the recycled material. The collected waste is beginning to pile up. Contracts for processing have already been terminated. We fear bankruptcy'. 
The sector would like support from the regional authorities, which could, for example, discourage the use of 'new' plastics or oblige the use of recycled materials.   
In Italy and the United Kingdom, the public authorities use taxes to make new plastics more expensive. Italy is considering imposing EUR 450 per tonne, at a price of between EUR 1,000 and EUR 1,400. In the UK it would be €228. 
The European Union states that 25% recycled PET should be used in PET bottles by 2025. By 2030 there should be 30% recycled material in all plastic packaging. Waste must also be incinerated less, which will require more recycling.  
Flemish Minister for the Environment Zuhal Demir (N-VA) announces that the Flemish Plastics Plan 2020-2025 encourages the use of recycled material. By 2021, garbage bags must consist of at least 80% recycled material. For the waste containers, this must be 50%.  

Diligently sorted plastic to the incinerator 

The civilian is doing his best and sorts more plastics in the blue bag. In recycling parks, bins are ready for the hard plastics and bags for foil. A separate collection of no less than eleven fractions of plastic has already been imposed.  
Kim Ragaert, professor of materials science at UGent, fears the consequences if the specialised, smaller recycling companies go out of business as a result of the corona crisis. Will we then transport our waste around the world again? 
Because China closed its borders to our waste, exporting to that country is no longer an option. It seems possible that the diligently sorted plastic will end up in the incinerator because of insufficient processing possibilities. And this despite the fact that we just want to reduce incineration for climatic reasons.  


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