An interestingly titled report fell into my lap today: The Compelling Facts About Plastics 2009.
According to the authors (Plastics Europe – The Association of Plastics Manufacturers) the report aims to
illustrate the life-cycle of plastics from development and production, through their many uses, to the advances made in recovering plastics at their end-of-life phase.
This is very relevant to all of us in Scotland because, from householders to big industry, we all use plastics in a number of ways.
A couple of stand out facts emerge; the first is that demand for plastics as a whole dropped off significantly (by over 30%) since the start of the recession last year. On a positive note for the environment this means less plastic waste. However, and this is where it gets more interesting, the reduction in demand has caused prices to crash. This in turn has sent the price of plastics from virgin sources well below the price of recycled plastics, thus stopping the demand for recycled plastics. This in turn caused a crash in the price of recycled plastics which meant it was suddenly not as profitable to process plastics for recycling. This is obviously not so good for the environment, which goes to show that economic growth and protecting the environment can co-exist where, for example, increased demand for recycled materials increases the price and makes a market for recyclables more sustainable. In the long term of course, recycled materials may be all that’s available if raw materials from the Earth have run out.
Plastic Europe summarise the situation thus:
[From 2008-2009] the total quantity of plastic waste generated will decrease year-on-year. Recycling volumes in Europe are expected to decrease between 5-10 % for the first 6 months of 2009, and for the full year are expected to be at a lower level than in 2008. Due to the drastic reduction in demand for recyclates, prices fell by more than 50% in latter part of 2008, but have since gradually recovered. Especially for higher quality recyclates the market shows a positive trend. This indicates the need for strong national recovery schemes, with sufficient financial reserves and programmes to improve the quality of the collected plastics.
They argue that the quality of the plastics recovered is key to maintaining a steady market for it. This theme has come up before and makes me wonder about the quality of recyclates collected more widely. Do households really wash their tins, bottles etc before they go out? Do businesses segregate their waste before collection?
The report can be downloaded here.