Technological watch

Continued investments lead to exceptional 17% growth in EU plastic recycling capacity

Installed plastic recycling capacity has grown by 17% in 2021 in EU27+3, boosted by an estimated €1.75 billion investment1. Despite the recent challenges that the industry has faced2, the commitment of recyclers to drive the transition toward a circular plastic future remains strong. 

“In recent years, European plastics recyclers have experienced many challenges. 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”, says Ton Emans, PRE President. “The positive growth we can observe today will shape and further strengthen the market for recycled plastics towards meeting the EU targets”, he adds. 

With more than 730 recycling sites, the total capacity in EU27+3 now stands at 11.3 million tonnes. This shows that the plastic recycling sector is an important employment generator with more than 30,000 persons across Europe, and with €8.7 billion in turnover it contributes substantially to the socio-economic welfare in the region. 

In terms of the polymers split, more than 3/4 of the total share is covered by flexible PE & PP, PET and rigid PE & PP. These streams showed the highest increase, compared to 2020. When it comes to rigid polyolefins, nearly half of the recycling capacity is dedicated to the household stream. For flexible PE & PP, half of the capacity is for commercial waste. 

Germany, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, and France are the countries with the highest installed capacities, representing 2/3 of the total market. Furthermore, countries with notable growth are Poland and the Netherlands. 

Increased investments and new capacities have created a strong foundation for the circular economy transition for plastics. To further build on that, a coherent legislative framework and its thorough implementation are critical, as it is one of the most important factors contributing to the unprecedented demand for recycled materials. This transition will be further accelerated due to the newly released proposal for the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which calls for a comprehensive, EU-wide assessment scheme for design for recycling and sets specific recycled content targets.

Plastics Recycling Industry in Europe: Mapping of Installed Plastics Recycling Capacities, 2021 Data

Press release: Circular economy at risk & press release: Plastic recyclers in Europe struggle to get enough plastic waste

About PREPlastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) is an organization representing the voice of the European plastics recyclers who reprocess plastic waste into high quality material destined for production of new articles. Recyclers are important facilitators of the circularity of plastics and the transition towards the circular economy.

Plastics recycling in Europe is a rapidly growing sector representing over €8.7 billion in turnover, 11.3 million tonnes of installed recycling capacity, more than 730 recycling facilities, and over 30.000 employees.

Publication date: 17/03/2023

Author: Yago Destro de Oliveira

Bio-based News

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

The website reflects only the author's view. The Commission is not responsible for any use thay may be made of the information it contains.
Last update: 2022-01-31