Recycling is a vital element in creating a closed loop for sustainable plastics. Improvements in collection and sorting, coupled with new ways to recycle complex plastics, help to retain the value of plastic through its lifecycle. And with targets defined by the European Union for mandatory recycled content, innovation and investment are key in finding better ways to reduce waste and improve recycling efficiency every step of the way.

ReShaping Plastics – Pathways to a circular, climate neutral plastics system in Europe (April 2022)

How are plastics recycled?

Plastics can be recycled by various methods, depending on the type of plastic and the recycling facility. Improvements in collection schemes and sorting technologies are essential to achieve higher recycling rates. Plastic waste recycling rates are ten times higher when collected separately compared to mixed collection schemes.

Mechanical recycling

is the most common approach for recycling plastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). PET and HDPE are typically used to make soft drinks bottles or containers and are relatively easy to recycle.

Read more about mechanical recycling.

Chemical recycling

Chemical recycling is a growing approach to recycling and offers greater opportunity for scalability. Chemical recycling converts polymeric waste by changing its chemical structure and turning it back into substances that can be used as raw materials for manufacturing plastics or other products. Different chemical recycling technologies exist, e.g. pyrolysis, gasification, hydro-cracking and depolymerisation.

Find out how chemical recycling contributes to the circular plastics economy.

Dissolution recycling

Dissolution recycling is a purification process through which the polymer present in a mixed plastics waste is selectively dissolved in a solvent, allowing it to be separated from the waste and recovered in a pure form without changing its chemical nature.

Organic recycling

Organic recycling is the controlled microbiological treatment of biodegradable plastic waste under aerobic or anaerobic (composting) conditions (biogasification). It applies to specific polymers that can be converted, under the actions of microorganisms, into stabilised organic residues, carbon dioxide, methane and water.

Why is recycling plastics important?

Plastics recycling is vital in creating a closed loop for sustainable plastics and keeping discarded waste as a valuable resource instead of sending it to landfills. And with targets defined by the European Union for mandatory recycled content innovation and investment are key in finding better ways to reduce waste and improve recycling efficiency every step of the way.

Zero plastics to landfill

Using waste as a resource is key to becoming more resource-efficient. At the end of their service life, plastics are still too valuable to simply be thrown away.

Learn about how we are supporting zero plastics to landfill.

Mandatory recycled content

European plastics producers support the European Commission’s proposal for a mandatory EU recycled content1 target for plastics packaging and have called for a target of 30% for plastics packaging by 2030. Innovation and investment are vital in finding better ways to reduce waste and improve recycling efficiency every step of the way.

Read about our members’ investment in technology solutions to reach this goal.

Boosting sustainability

The transition to a sustainable and circular plastics economy demands focus, collaboration and sizeable, long-term investments in systems and technology that can deliver the transition to a zero-waste future. We are fully committed to addressing the immense challenges of waste management, circularity and ending plastic waste in the environment.

While we are fully aware of the challenges, it is also essential to recognise our industry’s contribution to sustainability. This includes helping to reduce food waste through plastic packaging while reducing carbon emissions. For example, cars using lower-weight materials, the energy lost from buildings, and the electrification of our energy grid and transport systems. Plastic is an essential material to ensure a sustainable future and has a vital role in helping Europe achieve its Green Deal ambitions.

1 As per the recycling definition in the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, article 3(7).