Wednesday, 17th march 2021 | Circular economy
Marco Arezio - Consulente materie plastiche - Globalization of the Recycled Plastic Market: The Die is Stretched (Alea iacta est)

Was there a need to bother Julius Caesar to give the idea that there is no more propitious time like this to act? Maybe yes.

It is not only the Plastic Tax that pushes Europe to reconsider recycled polymers, but a series of movements from low in which consumers, worried by the environmental conditions of the planet, require more sustainable productions also in the world of plastics.

Many other countries, outside the European border, are also adopting restrictive policies to discourage the use of virgin plastic in mass production, with the aim of increasing recycling and decrease plastic waste.

The company S&P Global Platts Analytics expects that recycled plastic, produced through the mechanical recycling system, will replace over 1.7 million tons of virgin plastic polymers by 2030, compared to 688,000 tons in 2020.

How to replace virgin plastic with globally recycled plastic

There is still a lot of mistrust on recycled plastic polymers , especially in less industrialized countries, where too often the purchase of this material first it is seen as an economic business, aimed at reducing the cost of production. This request to make an important price difference, compared to the virgin one, becomes for some buyers the only yardstick for the use of a recycled polymer.

But as we saw in the article published in the Arezio portal, year after year the price of recycled polymers will move towards the price of the virgin ones and, in many cases they will exceed it, this for economic, environmental and industrial reasons.

The globalization of the market of recycled polymers must move towards a standardization of production processes, in which the transformation chain offers all customers and in all continents of plastic waste treatment processes comparable from a qualitative point of view.

Today, in many parts of the world, the production of recycled polymers is a localized activity where quality values are not always expressed, but mainly the need more or less compelling than the reuse of incoming waste.

It is necessary to acquire the awareness that the use of recycled polymers must be a priority over virgin ones, regardless of their cost, as saving the planet's resources and the reduction of waste that is produced daily is by far the main factor.

The pressure of governments

As we have seen, many states are applying legislation that disincentives the use of virgin plastic, through a series of taxes or impositions for use in mixes of percentages variables of recycled plastic.

In Great Britain, for example, the production of an article that does not contain 30% recycled plastic, for products covered by in some categories, it incurs a fee of GBP 200 / Ton, making the final cost of the product made only with virgin plastic less advantageous.

These regulations must, on the one hand discourage the non-deferrable purchase of virgin plastic but, at the same time, must aim, not only to increase the production quota of recycled polymers worldwide, in order to compensate for the decrease in the use of virgin, but they must also lead to a more uniform production chain to create similarities in exportable recycled polymers.

These legislative activities are increasing the demand for recycled plastic which often, as in Europe, does not correspond to the increase in volumes offered.

Principle of standardization of recycled polymers

When purchasing a virgin polymer with a specific characteristic from a supplier it is possible, if market conditions make it necessary, to purchase a very similar one. produced by another supplier, without having major differences in technical or color values.

In the field of recycled polymers, this alternation does not always exist, as there may be differences that could make one element different from another. Let's see how:

• Different sources of supply

• Different life cycle of the product to be recycled

• Different substances contained in the product if it is a packaging

• Different techniques and methods of recycling in the supply chain

• Different machines used

• Different quality of the recycling chain

• Different mix of inputs for creating recipes

• Different techniques for the quality control of polymers

These are just some alternatives that may imply to a recycled polymer of be different from a similar one.

Standardization is not always easy , as the incoming material can have characteristics, at times, closer to rejection than to raw material, but the common effort to better characterize the final polymers will allow a greater diffusion of the same.

In the European market the standardization work of some polymers such as rPET or PVC has brought good results, giving these two families rules qualitative, within which the product is regulated and easier to spread in the world, being able to repeat the same values, lot by lot.

Recycled rPET in the United States is also becoming more uniform and shows reductions in contaminant levels. This push is led by California, where a minimum content of recycled plastic in PET bottles will apply from 2022, starting at 15%.

But rPET California clear ground productions are largely dominated by materials with a PVC contaminant level of up to 100 ppm, this means that the US rPET industry is leaning towards lower quality end markets, such as the fiber and textile markets.

The major international soft drink brands are installing rPET production in countries where they find abundant and ongoing sources of supply, creating a push for polymer standardization around the world.

The global pollution caused by abandoned plastic due to man's nefarious behavior can be solved, giving value to the product to be recycled all the way

Automatic translation. We apologize for any inaccuracies. Original article in Italian.

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