Scenarios study on post-consumer plastic packaging waste recycling

Thoden van Velzen, E.U.; Bos-Brouwers, H.E.J.; Groot, J.J.; Bing Xiaoyun, Xiaoyun; Jansen, M.; Luijsterburg, B.


We all use plastics on a daily basis. Plastics come in many shapes, sizes and compositions and are used in a wide variety of products. Almost all of the currently used plastic packaging are made from fossil resources, which are finite. The production of plastic packages causes environmental impacts, whereas the correct use of these packages will reduce product losses and hence reduce the much more negative environmental impacts associated with product losses. Wrongly discarded plastic objects have a negative impact on the environment, as these materials degrade only very slowly, creating problems such as the infamous ‘plastic islands’ in our oceans. Fortunately, recycling technologies are now emerging for plastic waste, enabling the reuse of these materials in a second life as a package or a utensil. Plastic packaging waste (PPW) is complex in many ways. First of all, there are many different types of plastics, all with their own characteristics and compositions. To enable the re-use of PPW, it has to be sorted into separate fractions. Each type of plastic can then be dealt with in an appropriate way. Second, the collection of PPW is also very complex. In the Netherlands there are many different PPW flows, from industry, offices and households for example. Each has its own collection system and household collection systems differ from one municipality to the next. To add to this complexity there is also the deposit refund system for large PET bottles, run by the soda producers via the supermarkets. Everybody deals with PPW on a daily basis. Most of us think recycling is a good idea. But when we want to decide what the best and most efficient method of recycling is, we are all impaired by a lack of data. A clear view of our best options is inhibited by the existing infrastructure and ‘the way it has always been done’. Also, the subject of recycling touches on our moral opinions about ‘doing the right thing’ and assumptions about the ‘correct’ way of dealing with our plastic waste. And politics also play a role. To unravel the complexity of plastic packaging waste recycling and figure out the best way(s) to improve our recycling system we need science. We need technological, economical, logistical and environmental data to gain insight into recycling systems. By describing the system in detail we can learn how to optimise it. An improved recycling system will provide us with an easier and more efficient re-use of our plastic waste.