Fact check No. 2: Plastic – waste or a valuable resource?

Plastics offer a series of advantages that in this combination can be covered by no other material. But it’s precisely one of these desirable properties, too, that often proves disastrous after they’ve been used: their longevity.

For a package that protects a food or beverage from deleterious outside influences, for example, this is an indispensable function. If, however, the same package ends up in the natural environment, this advantage is unfortunately transformed into its opposite.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Quite the contrary: even non-returnable packages can serve as a valuable resource after they’ve been used. This particularly applies to beverage bottles. For they mostly consist of the high-quality plastic PET. When separated by type, this can be recycled virtually endlessly – for example, with the MetaPure Technology from Krones.

The technology’s long since been available – so let’s use it!

But why then do such large quantities of plastic end up in the environment? Why isn’t this resource used more? The answer is very simple: because first a suitable infrastructure is required. And exactly that is still missing in many locations. Nation-wide waste management that offers all households a regular waste disposal: what appears to be self-evident to the inhabitants of most industrialised countries is a luxury elsewhere. According to estimates, approximately three billion people around the world have no access to controlled waste disposal – yet. For in view of the pressing problems, an increasing number of organisations and countries are working on the establishment and expansion of a regional recycling economy. The ecological advantages are not the only incentive here. For as, for example, the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation emphasises, a closed raw material cycle can also entail economic benefits for producers and consumers. The increasing demand for Krones recycling systems – especially from emerging countries – shows: the enormous potential that recycling technology demonstrates has long been recognised. Now it’s a matter of putting this knowledge into practice!

Facts and figures

  • Every year between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of PET bottles are recycled with Krones MetaPure systems.
  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that the value of unused plastic waste is still 80 to 120 billion dollars a year.

There is still room for improvement

This is how high the percentage of recycled PET (rPET) in PET bottles was in 2016:

What happens to the waste? Almost 40 per cent of the plastic waste collected in the EU is incinerated for energy generation. This type of recycling is definitely more sustainable than dumping the waste unused at disposal sites. However, material recycling would be ideal, i.e. separated by type in closed cycles.

Recycling of plastic waste in the EU member countries

Recycling of plastic waste in Germany

… but there are also a number of bioplastics as well? Shouldn’t we simply be using more of them? You can read the answer to that in the next fact check!


Data sources:

Picture 1: Forum PET and Citigroup
Picture 2: European Parliament/Eurostat
Picture 3: German Federal Environmental Agency/CONVERSIO Market & Strategy GmbH