CEFLEX and partners are conducting a multi-country compositional analysis to research the type and amount of flexible packaging and rigid plastic packaging in the post-consumer waste stream. The research is providing valuable data to understand the collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure needed in each country.
Following in-depth compositional analysis at sites in the UK and Germany, and now also The Netherlands and France, a multi-country study by CEFLEX, Resource Futures, and partners PCEP, Petcore Europe, Styrenics Circular Solutions and the Tubes Recycling Project managed by Stina Inc. continues to gather insights on the reality of today’s collected household packaging waste. The insights generated represent a vital step forward towards a circular economy for packaging materials.
In addition to the extensive data gathered at each site, a first round of country-to-country analysis is starting to be made. Across four countries (UK-Germany-The Netherlands-France), a total of 12.8 tonnes of residual waste and 4.9 tonnes of recyclables were sampled, sorted and analysed giving several levels of detailed data.
CEFLEX will be focusing on key takeaways specific to flexible packaging and collaborating with its rigid plastics partners to explore insights across all formats.
Separate collection and sorting can tap into lots of ready to recycle resources
Which waste stream flexible packaging is found in shows the impact of a well-established separate collection system for recyclables. For instance, flexibles are not widely separately collected for recycling in the UK, including by those local authorities where the research was conducted. This explains a higher percentage of flexible packaging found in the UK residual waste stream compared to Germany and the Netherlands
Headline percentage splits – excluding carrier bags and bin liners – by weight of flexible packaging in separately collected recyclable and residual waste streams in four major European countries:
|% (by weight) of flexible packaging in:||Germany||Netherlands||UK||France|
|Residual waste stream||1.8%||3.7%||5.3%||3.7%|
|Recyclables waste stream||18.9%||17.6%||1.3%||6.8%|
The study also found a significant amount of flexible packaging to be recyclable mono-polyethylene (PE) and mono-polypropylene (PP) – between 40% and 60% of flexible packaging depending on the country and waste stream.
This encouraging finding indicates significant quantities of recyclable flexible packaging are potentially available to be sorted and returned to the economy, with amounts expected to rise further as design changes increase the proportion of mono-material packaging.
Country by country insights
The composition by country – flexibles in the recyclable stream data shows variation in the proportions of the different types of flexible packaging structures found in the separately collected recyclable waste stream country to country. This reflects different collection schemes in terms of what materials are and aren’t separately collected, but also different consumer habits and markets in those countries.
In all countries studied the greatest proportion of flexible packaging found in the recyclable stream is mono-materials films, primarily mono-PE and mono-PP. This is a positive finding as these are the materials most easily recycled and CEFLEX’s preference for designing flexible packaging. There is a varying proportion of multi-material structures country to country, with smaller amounts of paper-based, aluminium foil-based, biodegradable and compostable structures.
For rigid plastic packaging, categories most commonly found across all countries and both in the separately collected recyclables stream and the residual waste stream were polypropylene (PP) pots, tubs and trays; polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles and pots, tubs and trays; plus high density PE (HDPE) bottles. There are relatively small amounts of other plastic packaging including tubes in the waste streams.
Assessment and categorisation
The four country study data has been extrapolated to a national scale, building our understanding of how much and what types of flexible packaging appears in the recyclable and residual waste streams in each country. This is vital to understand the collection, sorting and recycling infrastructure needed in each country and the implications for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.
With the compositional analysis study now achieving an important threshold of completing fieldwork in four countries, CEFLEX stakeholders and partners can look forward to further webinars sharing insights and expert analysis, plus an executive summary of findings during 2023.