Assessment of the environmental advantages and drawbacks of existing and emerging polymers recovery processes

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The production and consumption of plastics is increasing rapidly; there are materials outpacing GDP growth and taking over new markets. Nevertheless, only 39% of total collectable waste plastics are being recovered at present. In May 2003, the Commission adopted a Communication towards a Thematic Strategy on the Prevention and Recycling of Waste , which investigates ways to promote recycling where potential exists for additional environmental benefits and analyses options to achieve recycling objectives in the most cost-effective way possible. It should be seen as part of a wider strategy which considers also recovery and sound disposal of waste. This is particularly relevant for polymers as they can be recovered in a number of ways leading to varying the degree of environmental benefits.

This report provides an evaluation of the environmental potential of the various plastic recovery processes, and assesses the possibilities for environmentally favourable existing and emerging processes to enter the European market within the coming ten years.  The report contains an inventory of current post-consumer plastic waste by sectors in the EU-25 and offers a prospect of the composition of the plastic waste to be found in a ten year time frame. The environmental impact of the most common polymers identified has been qualitatively assessed on the basis of the intrinsic nature of the respective polymer, the utilisation of the polymer in certain applications and its occurrence in specific waste flows. This analysis has allowed for the qualitative ranking of polymers in relation to their needs for improved waste management.

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