A study carried out by Elisava Research, the research department of Elisava, Faculty of Design and Engineering of the UVic-UCC, denies the official statistics of plastic recycling in Spain and reveals that with the current system it is impossible to achieve the objective of the European Union to recycle 55% of plastic packaging in 2025.
The research evidences the need to integrate design strategies and the design and selection of new materials in the development of waste management policies. It also provides recommendations to be able to converge with the objectives established by the European Union and move towards effective circularity.
The research is based on an analysis of the flow of plastic materials from packaging to determine the current status and performance of waste collection and recyclability in Spain. The analysis highlights that Spain collects 15.3% of plastic packaging and only recycles 10.7%, a figure that differs drastically from the official levels of between 48% and 70% published by Ecoembesa private company that manages waste in Spain.
The study also reveals important differences in recyclability between the different types of plastic that make up the packaging. For this reason, Elisava Research confirms that without a clear commitment to include design in recycling policies, it will not be possible to achieve the objectives set by the European Union to recycle 55% of plastic packaging by 2025.
The study has been published in the scientific journal Sustainable Production and Consumption with the title A realistic material flow analysis for end-of-life plastic packaging management in Spain: Data gaps and suggestions for improvements towards effective recyclability by the authors José F. López Aguilar, Eva Sevigné-Itoiz, Maria LLuïsa Maspoch and Javier Peña.
Half of plastic containers are made of film, with a recycling rate of 3%
The research analyzes the specificities, technical properties, circularity potential and recyclability of each type of plastic. The study reveals that film, the lightweight plastic used to wrap and make flexible packaging, accounts for nearly half of all plastic packaging that are put into circulation. The film has a rejection rate at the recycling plant close to 50% and an effective recycling rate of 3%, figures that show that with the current recycling system it is impossible to achieve the circularity objectives established by the European Union.
In contrast, rigid plastics such as PET (such as water bottles) or HDPE (such as detergent bottles) have a recycling rate of around 30% and the smallest difference between the collection rate and the recycling rate, so which are more circular.
Integrate design in waste management policies
The research reaffirms that waste management policies must take into account design methodologies and strategies to be effective. Elisava Research proposes specific recommendations to increase the recycling rate of plastic packaging waste and to be able to converge with the objectives established by the European Union:
Limit the use of plastic film until it is completely eliminated. It is proposed to replace it with compostable material, cardboard or recyclable paper.
Harmonize the uses of materials according to their use: use PET only for food contact and HDPE for non-food contact.
Favor the use of bottles or similar formats, since they are easier to identify and due to their size, composition and design they require fewer transformation processes.
Reference study (in English): https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2352550922000458