Why are Global Plastics Recycling Rates Falling?

Research from Worldwatch Institute featured online by PRW.com reported that plastics recycling rates are falling despite a growth in production.  Political parties from across the world and especially in Western Europe continually advocate the importance of environmental policy and the need to reclaim, recycle and reuse.  However, this rhetoric is often without substance or knowledge.

So what is the issue with the recycling of plastic?  As as been recently reported in the press (eg letsrecycle.com), in December 2014 one of the UK biggest plastics recyclers, ECO Plastics, was placed into pre-pack administration prior to its business and assets being acquired by investor Aurelius.  Is there a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed at government level?

Plastics recycling has always been challenging and the advent of pre-sorted refuse plants in Germany in the 1990s resulted in warehouses stacked to the roof with recovered plastic that was of no use to anyone.  The industry has advanced significantly since then, but problems still remain.  Bunting has worked on a number of projects recently assisting with separation technology to enable the recovery of plastic from waste materials such as laser and toner cartridges.  Are these some of the key issues:

Mixed materials prior to separation on a Bunting Magnetic Drum

1. Is there a market and a value for the reclaimed plastic?

2. Does the technology exist to effectively and economically process the reclaimed plastic into usable fractions?

3. Does the plastic packaging manufacturer’s insistence on producing products with multiple types of plastics cause a serious recycling problem?

4. With the high calorific value, should reclaimed plastic simply be burnt to generate energy?

The Worldwatch report highlights the need for the plastics industry to face up to the challenge of plastic waste and decide upon a reclamation, recycling and reuse strategy otherwise the dumping of plastic waste will increase and continue to live for centuries in landfill sites around the world.

Comments would be welcomed.

5 thoughts on “Why are Global Plastics Recycling Rates Falling?

    • Bunting Magnetics Europe

      Hi Gregory. It seems to be such a logical thing to do, but packaging designers still insist on mixed plastic packaging. Surely they are clever enough to design a mono-plastic item that is both functional and attractive. I agree that legislation may be the only way forward.


  1. Cristal Lau

    Thank you for sharing the article. The fundamental problem is current recycling facilities fail to catch up with the rapid change of packaging design (e.g. light weighted plastic bottles). The resource recovery industry invest million dollars in optimising infrastructure and technology in order to increase material recovery. There is a missing link between product design and recyclability. A national standard for packaging recyclability is necessary.


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