Technical Limits in Circularity for Plastic Packages

Brouwer MT, Thoden van Velzen EU, Ragaert K, ten Klooster R. (2020). “Technical Limits in Circularity for Plastic Packages.” Sustainability 12(23),10021.

Abstract: The current Dutch recycling value chain for plastic packaging waste (PPW) has not reached its full circularity potential, as is apparent from two Circular Performance Indicators (CPIs): net packaging recycling rate and average polymer purity of the recycled plastics. The performance of the recycling value chain can be optimised at four stages: packaging design, collection, sorting, and recycling. This study explores the maximally achievable performance of a circular PPW recycling value chain, in case all stakeholders would implement the required radical improvement measures in a concerted action. The effects of the measures were modelled with material flow analysis. For such a utopic scenario, a net plastic packaging recycling rate of 72% can be attained and the produced recycled plastics will have an average polymeric purity of 97%. This is substantially more than the net packaging recycling rate of 37% for 2017 and will exceed the EU target of 50% for 2025. In such an ideal circular value chain more recycled plastics are produced for more demanding applications, such as food packaging, compared to the current recycling value chain. However, all stakeholders would need to implement drastic and coordinated changes, signifying unprecedented investments, to achieve this optimal circular PPW recycling value chain.

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