French company proves recycling PET plastics can be profitable

“Since 2019, the price of recycled plastic has been stable. This is very good news. If the price of PET recycled plastic fluctuated with the price of oil, this business model would not be viable for our company,” the deputy director added. [RecycleMan/Shutterstock]

French company Veolia is demonstrating that companies can introduce recycled petroleum-based plastics (PET) plastics into their production chain and still be successful. EURACTIV France reports.

Although the costs of recycling packaging are more expensive than producing plastic from petroleum, manufacturing the material from scratch has negative consequences on the environment and peoples’ health.

The ideal solution – although costly – would be for companies to introduce recycled PET into a product’s manufacturing chain. In 2017, for instance, of the 480 billion PET bottles sold worldwide, less than 50% were recycled.

At an event organised as part of the European Commission’s Green Week on Thursday (3 June), Veolia Group’s Spain-based subsidiary TorrePET said it has developed state-of-the-art recycling technology to separate PET from recovered bottles and produce healthier, high-quality recycled plastic.

To make its business model viable, the Veolia Group subsidiary has made an agreement with the industry selling the bottles on sales prices based solely on the company’s actual costs and not on the costs of raw material.

“In a way, we have internalised the environmental value of recycled plastic. We can free ourselves from the economics of fossil fuels,” said Sven Saura, Deputy Director of Recycling at Veolia.

And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, sending oil prices tumbling, the company did not experience a drop in demand for recycled plastic.

“Since 2019, the price of recycled plastic has been stable. This is very good news. If the price of PET recycled plastic fluctuated with the price of oil, this business model would not be viable for our company,” Saura said.

Blue, yellow or white? Recycling varies widely in the EU

Deposit return and extended producer responsibility schemes are everywhere in the EU but have very different rules. Does this present a barrier to meeting the EU’s recycling objectives?

Recycling PET comes with a series of benefits, including reducing waste and eliminating fossil fuels, which are all objectives of the European Commission’s circular economy action plan, presented in March 2020.

In its action plan, the EU executive suggested new requirements for plastic packaging in order to reduce their use and ensure a mandatory minimum level of recycled material in new products.

“To achieve climate neutrality by 2050, preserve our natural environment and strengthen our economic competitiveness, our economy must be fully circular. Today, it is still essentially linear, with only 12% of secondary materials and resources being reintroduced into it,” said the EU’s climate chief, Frans Timmermans.

Michail Papadoyannakis, an official at the European Commission’s environment directorate, welcomed Veolia’s achievements but said more efforts will need to be made to fight plastic pollution and reach of the objectives of the European Green Deal.

“We need to go further and not rest on our laurels,” he said, adding that “more funds for plastic pollution” are needed, and that policies such as a ban on single-use plastics need to be put in place at a global level.

Last minute EU taxonomy changes water down sustainability criteria for waste, NGOs say

The European Commission on Wednesday (21 April), tabled a first set of implementation rules under the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy, but changes made since a draft leaked last week have weakened criteria on waste management, campaigners say.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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