Written by Gayatri Balasubramanian, Staff Reporter

The eBook “Recycling in the EU: New Trends and Tech Solutions” provides an in-depth analysis of the current state of recycling in the European Union (EU), applicable regulations and technological solutions that promote innovation in recycling industry alongside their corresponding regulatory frameworks. The eBook provides valuable insights and practical recommendations tailored for stakeholders, recyclers, and policymakers with the aim of fostering circular economy.

EU Recycling Targets

The EU has set ambitious recycling targets, with the aim of reaching 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030, and 65% by 2035. Although progress has been achieved, there are disparities exist among EU members, with some have surpassing recycling targets, while others are lagging. Also, the EU has a goal of recycling 50% of its plastic packaging waste by 2025, and 55% by 2030. The most recent target percent has not met since only 32.5% of all plastics used for packaging with the EU gets recycled. Recycling companies play a significant role in EU recycling industry, investing in infrastructure to enhance the efficiency and improve the quality and quantity of recycled materials. However, challenges include eliminating illegal disposal and inadequate waste management.

EU Recyclable materials and striking facts

EU Recyclable MaterialsOverview
Paper and Cardboard49 million tons were recycled annually in the EU which helps to reduce landfill disposal and save tress, conserves energy and decrease the green house gas emissions. Investing in high tech sorting and processing systems improves the efficiency of recyclable rate.
PlasticsEU produces 29 million tons plastic waste annually, from that only 32.5% of plastic packaging waste is getting recycled. To improve the plastic recycling rates, sorting, cleaning, shredding, and chemical recycling have to be improved. Also, working with the manufacturers to create the stable market for recycled plastic is essential.
GlassIn 2019, 12.4 million tons of glass were recycled, saving resources, and reducing waste, A tonne of recycled glass save up to 670 kg of CO2 emissions. Advanced sorting and processing technologies ensures high quality recycled glasses.
MetalAbout 50 million tons of metal waste was generated by EU in 2018. The major challenge in the recycling includes separating metal types and removing contaminants such as paints and coatings.
E-WasteIn 2019, 12.3 million tons of e-waste were generated by EU. Hazardous E-waste requiring careful handling and specialized tools for recycling. Investing in new processing technologies which aims at separating e-waste from valuable materials is required.

The information in the above table is a snapshot of the current state of recycling in EU. By 2030, the shift to a circular economy will be well underway if the ambitious targets are met. Meeting the targets relies on recycling. It is estimated that reaching the recycling targets will bring about $4.5 trillion in economic benefits.

The EU’s current circularity rate is 7.2% which is lower than 8.6% rate from 2018 necessitating for additional attention. The EU focus for all packaging it that all of it be recyclable or reusable by 2030. In the EU, 42.5% of e-waste was recycled in 2019 and 40% of PET bottles and trays. The recycling sector in the EU is competitive and innovative with a turnover of €24 billion and over 500,000 employees.

Regulatory Frameworks

The eBook outlines the EU regulations that influence the recycling practices and is enabling the transition towards circular economy.  The EU’s Waste Framework Directive sets recycling targets for municipal waste with the goal of reaching municipal waste recycling targets 55% by 2025, 60% by 2030, and 65% by 2035.

Packaging waste targets are defined by Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive setting at least 55% by 2025 and 65% by 2030. End- of-life recycling and recovery standards are outlined in the End-of-life Vehicle Directive, which stipulates that at least 85% of each vehicle be reused and recycled.

EU member states are required to recycle at least 50% of portable batteries and 25% of industrial batteries, in accordance with the Batteries Directive, which encourages battery reuse and recycling.

Electronic Waste recycling targets are mandated by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive with the goal of at least 65% by 2030 and 85% for specific forms of e-waste.

By setting the clear targets and requirements for producers and member states, these regulations can facilitate more effective and efficient recycling system which can lead to waste reductions and increased business prospects.

The Domino Effect of Recycling

Recycling has a broad impact on many sectors including manufacturing, construction, packaging, automotive, electronics and textiles which assist the respective industries in meeting sustainability targets and save costs through recycles provision and reducing dependency on fresh inputs in relation to environment footprint. For instance, manufacturers can reduce their energy consumption and dependence on virgin materials by recycling and support construction Industry’s utilization such as concrete, steel and wood. Besides this, recycling plays a crucial role in reducing waste in packaging and automotive industries and recovering valuable materials from electronic and textile waste.

Technological applications in recycling practices

The limitations of conventional manual recycling techniques include ineffective sorting, lack of transparency, high labour costs and inconsistent quality of recycled material. These limitations emphasize the need for the recycling industry to adopt technological solutions like high-tech sensors, data analysis and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to overcome the manual drawbacks. Automated technology enables traceability to track recycled materials, ensure compliance, boost efficiency, maintain consistency and minimize manual labour. Additionally, traceability increases stakeholder trust which is important in sectors that value sustainability and transparency regarding environmental impact of products.

Applicability to Canada

The adoption of technological solutions as highlighted in the eBook could potentially benefit recyclers in Canada who are facing similar challenges such as inefficient sorting, lack of transparency, high labour cost and inconsistent quality. AI, data analysis and automated technology could improve the traceability and can increase recycling rates in Canada. Additionally, the focus on developing steady markets for recycled materials and fostering collaboration between recyclers and industries sectors including manufacturing, construction, packaging and automotive could contribute to circular economy in Canada.