#9 – AcoZunday – Plastic waste in Europe

So far we focused AcoZunday to shed some light on on plastic waste and the desastrous handling of waste streams in the Global South. But the reality of the status-quo in the Global North is far from ideal. That’s why we want to take a look at some of the latest headlines and underlying circumstances in Europe.

The Nordics, Benelux as well as the German speaking countries are often considered to be the benchmark when it comes to waste stream management and recycling. But even in the most developed countries existing circularity systems and infrastructure have not been able to handle the amounts of waste that was generated.1 After decades of selling unsorted and contaminated plastic waste to China and South-East Asia this cheap option has been banned by the EU. Prominent examples, such as 700 tons of plastic waste which were exported illegally and now have been sent back to the sender, show that these policies are executed though there is still high interest to using formerly existing routes to get rid of the plastic.2

Naturally, the legal and political restrictions have redirected waste streams to Eastern European countries.3 While struggling to manage their domestically generated trash, countries like Turkey or Romania have been buying up unsorted plastic trash.4 By doing so they are putting massive pressure on their local ecosystems and accept leakage of plastic waste into rivers, lakes and the sea.5 Taking more of a long-term perspective it’s clear that all these „pressure valves“ held back investments in recycling technology and infrastructure all over Europe. The exisiting capacity cannot keep up with the increasing amounts of waste that is generated. At the same time low oil price levels are challenge existing companies to stay profitable.6

It’s unlikely that chemical recycling will solve this issue, but especially in smaller markets with limited infrastructure there is great potential to install pyrolysis machines and enable local value creation.

1https://www.dw.com/en/german-plastic-floods-southeast-asia/a-47204773 2https://kurier.at/amp/wirtschaft/illegal-verschiffter-plastikmuell-zurueck-in-oesterreich/401195846?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=upday 3https://www.statista.com/statistics/992863/plastic-waste-export-volume-in-germany/ 4https://www.merkur.de/welt/rumaenien-versinkt-im-muell-und-kauft-abfall-aus-ausland-zr-13806418.html 5https://www.wwf.de/themen-projekte/meere-kuesten/plastik/sommer-sonne-plastikmuell-das-mittelmeer-erstickt-im-plastik 5https://resource.co/article/costa-rican-company-turning-plastic-waste-building-blocks 6https://www.recyclingmagazin.de/2020/07/01/kunststoffrecycling-in-europa-muss-massiv-ausgebaut-werden/

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