EU environment council backs "broad" recycling definition

(By Luke Hutson) - Revision welcomed by plastics and automotive industries.

29 June 2007 – Following a proposed revision to the EU Waste Framework Directive, the EU’s Environment Council is backing a “broad definition” of recycling.

In February, the European Parliament voted for a narrow definition, which excluded mechanical and chemical recycling, but the Commission has since proposed a revision.

The mechanical recycling of plastics describes melting, shredding and granulation processes. Chemical or feedstock recycling refers to a range of recovery techniques that break down polymers into their constituent monomers.

Industry bodies representing the plastics and automotive sectors in Europe welcome the broader definition.

If a broader definition is not achieved, the trade association PlasticsEurope is concerned that plastics could be deselected for certain applications.

Jan-Erik Johansson, PlasticsEurope’s Advocacy Director, told that PlasticsEurope wants to “modernise” the definition by including chemical recycling. He said the multi-layer structure of many plastics products makes mechanical recycling difficult from a eco-efficiency perspective.

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association supports a broad definition believing it creates the “legal certainty needed to ensure the development, investment and operation of innovative recycling plants.”

However, the “broad definition” is not universally supported by other industries. According to Johansson, the steel industry has little interest in the broadening the definition, largely because steel could be used as a replacement material in certain applications.

A new definition could also affect funding for technical projects. “Improving the recycling performance of a material will have a positive image effect for that material,” said Johansson. He believes a narrow definition will limit the opportunities for plastics recycling projects to achieve funding from organisations, such as the Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), and venture capitalists.

Following the Environment Council’s recommendations, there will be a second reading of the Waste Directive in the first quarter of 2008. At this point, the draft directive could enter the reconciliation stage. “We are optimistic that it will include more than the pure mechanical definition. The question is how much,” added Johansson.

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