Plastic packaging waste: an average of 38% recycled

In 2020 the general amount of packaging waste generated per inhabitant in the EU was estimated at 177.2 kg, recent data published by Eurostat shows. This quantity varied between 66.0 kg per inhabitant in Croatia and 225.8 kg per inhabitant in Germany, while the amounts of recycled packaging waste ranged from 35.8 kg per inhabitant in Croatia to 147.5 kg per inhabitant in Luxembourg. There were 14 EU Member States with amounts of packaging waste generated of more than 150 kg per inhabitant in 2020.

Paper and cardboard made out the majority of packaging waste (41.2 %) followed by plastic (19.5 %), glass (19.1 %), wood (15.1 %) and metal (5.0 %). Other materials represent 0.1 % of the total volume of packaging waste generated in 2020.

The data shows that in the period 2009–2020 the recycling rate of packaging waste went up from 62.6 % in 2009 to 64.3 % in 2020. The recycling rate and the recovery rate evolved in parallel. The recovery rate including incineration at waste-to-energy plants rose from 75.8 % in 2009 to 80.2 % in 2020.

Plastic packaging waste is increasing

Looking more closely at plastic packaging waste, the data shows, that also this waste stream is steadily increasing. In 2020, each person living in the EU generated an average of 34.6 kg of plastic packaging waste. Out of these, 13.0 kg were recycled.

While the volume of plastic packaging waste generated per inhabitant between 2010 and 2020 increased by 23% (+6.5 kg), the recycled volume of plastic packaging waste increased as well by 32% (+3.2 kg). Despite this improvement, the amount of plastic packaging that wasn’t recycled increased by 3.4 kg per inhabitant since 2010 due to the greater increase in the absolute amount of plastic packaging waste generated.

Less plastic recycling due to change in method

According to Eurostat in 2020, stricter rules for reporting recycling entered into force. These include a harmonised calculation point for recycling and stricter accounting of composite packaging material fractions. Due to that, a provisional decrease of 3% was observed (from 41% in 2019 to an estimated 38% in 2020).

The Netherlands, Lithuania, Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria and Cyprus recycled more than half of their plastic packaging waste generated. In contrast, less than one-third of plastic packaging waste was recycled in Malta, France, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Poland and Austria.

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