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Average recycled content in EU beverage bottles reaches 24 percent

Despite progress towards circularity, more work is needed to achieve 2025 EU targets

An operator sorts through a pile of plastic bottles
PET collection and recycling accelerated in 2022 ahead of the new EU Single-Use Plastic Directive targets. Adobe Stock Images

2022 was an unprecedented year for the PET and rPET value chains, as shown in the latest PET Market in Europe: State of Play report by Plastics Recyclers Europe, UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe, Natural Mineral Waters Europe (NMWE), Petcore Europe, and ICIS Consulting. Despite extreme uncertainty, figures show advancement in the market. However, the disparities in the collection, sorting, and recycling of PET around Europe will need to be addressed to achieve the EU recycling targets in the mid and long term.

PET collection and recycling accelerated in 2022 ahead of the new EU Single-Use Plastic Directive targets. The collection rate of PET in 2022 was 60 percent, showing an increase from the 45 percent achieved in 2020. Furthermore, the sorted for recycling rate for PET beverage bottles alone was estimated to be 75 percent, compared to 61 percent in 2020.

This collection rate is expected to keep growing in years to come due to the wider rollout of deposit-return systems across Europe. In 2022, 12 countries in the EU 27+3 were reported to have this collection method operational, while 9 have taken the political decision to install DRS soon.

As for the collection, almost 2.7 million tonnes of PET waste were sorted for recycling. In addition, the total installed recycling capacity was around 3 million tonnes, out of which 1.4 million tonnes were destined for food contact applications.

Packaging was the dominant end-use for rPET in 2022, with 48 percent used in bottles. This shows a very positive increase in bottle-to-bottle recycling in Europe. 25 percent of rPET was used in sheets (trays), and the remainder was used in non-packaging applications including polyester fibres (15 percent), strapping (six percent), and others (six percent). The value chain has also taken steps towards tray recycling and chemical recycling.

To continue the trend towards true circularity, the disparities between EU member states in terms of collection, recycling and uptake will need to be tackled, as today some countries are not likely to meet 2025 targets if no further investment is maintained. Therefore, specific actions per member state need to be addressed to improve the waste collection and recycling infrastructure and take steps to meet the targets.

The implementation of the SUPD and further investments in the waste management and recycling sectors will be essential to maintain the competitiveness of the EU's industry.

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