Plastic waste and recycling in the EU: facts and figures | Current

Treatment of plastic waste in Europe

In Europe, energy recovery is the most common method used to dispose of plastic waste, followed by recycling. Around 25% of all plastic waste is disposed of in landfills.

Half of the plastic collected for recycling is exported to countries outside the EU for further processing. Reasons for export include a lack of capacity, technology or financial resources to process the waste on site. Shipments of waste from the EU to third countries reached 32.7 million tonnes in 2020. The majority of waste waste consists of ferrous and non-ferrous metal waste as well as waste paper, plastic, textiles and glass and is mainly destined for Turkey, India and Egypt.

In the past, a significant portion of exported plastic waste went to China, but due to the recent ban on importing plastic waste in China EU exports are expected to decline further. This poses a risk of increased incineration and landfilling of plastic waste in Europe. Meanwhile, the EU is trying to find circular and climate-friendly ways to manage its plastic waste.

The low level of plastic recycling in the EU means significant losses for the economy and the environment. It is estimated that 95% of the value of plastic packaging materials is lost after a short cycle of initial use.

Worldwide followed in 2019 estimates by researchers more than 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by the production and incineration of plastics. By 2050, these emissions could reach 2.8 billion tonnes. Better recycling could counteract this.

Find out more about waste management in the EU.

Mathew Baynton

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