Plastics Recyclers Europe has reported a 17% growth in installed recycling capacity in 2021 amongst ongoing challenges with the European energy crisis and the low accessibility of sorted plastic waste.

An estimated €1.75 billion investment is expected to have contributed to the growth, with the total capacity in Europe now said to have reached 11.3 million tonnes. Across 730 recycling sites, it is thought that 30,000 employees are working in the plastic recycling sector, and Plastics Recyclers Europe claims that the industry comes with an €8.7 billion turnover.

In comparison to 2020, flexible and rigid PE and PP and PET apparently showed the highest increase in recycled polymers. Nearly half of the recycling capacity of rigid polyolefins is dedicated to the household stream, it is claimed, and half of the flexible PE and PP capacity is for commercial waste.

Poland and the Netherlands are highlighted as the countries to have undergone the most growth, while Germany, Spain, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom are reportedly the countries with the highest installed capacities, representing two-thirds of the total market.

Plastics Recyclers Europe now calls for ‘a coherent legislative framework and its thorough implementation’ to meet the growing demand for recycled materials. It expresses its optimism surrounding the upcoming proposal for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which will mandate a comprehensive and EU-wide assessment scheme for design for recycling and will set specific targets for recycled content.

“In recent years, European plastics recyclers have experienced many challenges,” says Ton Emans, president of Plastics Recyclers Europe. “However, with the increased advancements in legislation, stemming from the implementation of the Plastics Strategy and the Single-Use Plastics Directive, the recycling industry has weathered the crisis showing its resiliency to external factors. The positive growth we can observe today will shape and further strengthen the market for recycled plastics towards meeting the EU targets.”

Previous data reported a 13% rise in installed plastics recycling capacity in Europe in 2020, which it attributed to the industry’s resilience throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, supply shortages, and rising prices.

At the end of last year, AMI Consulting predicted a steady increase in the European collation shrink film market thanks to the use of post-consumer recycled resins, but warned that changes in legislation and rising consumer demand for plastic alternatives are amongst the potential obstacles that the sector faces.

Additionally, AMI placed plastic recyclate production at 8.2 million tonnes in 2021, predicting an annual growth rate of 5.6% in the lead-up to 2030. It also estimated an overall plastic recycling rate of 23.1% that year based on an estimated 35.6 million tonnes of commodity plastic waste entering waste streams.

etma has also noted a total growth of just under 2% in the European tube industry with a volume of 11.8 billion units delivered in 2022. Still, it is concerned about continued inflation in Europe and upcoming revisions to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which might impact the accessibility of recycled plastics and the purchasing power of consumers.