In an article published on November 30, 2017, trade body Plastics Recyclers Europe informed about the release of a set of bales characterization guidelines aiming “to drive market transformation towards circularity.” Commenting on the release, PRE President Tom Emans said that “it is time to understand that each product needs to be sorted towards a specific stream to keep the value of plastics.”

The PRE’s guidelines “specify the main properties that define the origins and the characteristics of the sorted waste,” based on the three main features, namely impurities, transport, and supplier. They can be applied to various collection systems, including deposit, curbside, and drop-off systems. The guidelines currently available deal with four types of plastics, namely “clear, light blue, clear/blue and mixed colored PET Bottles; PE-HD Packaging; PE Film; PP Film.” Further guidelines for “PP Packaging, PO Pots, Tubs & Trays, PET trays, and opaque PET bottles” are currently being developed.

PRE invited “the plastics waste collectors and sorters to join this initiative,” because “by improving the definition of collected and sorted plastic the industry will take one step closer to develop standards which are needed to operate in a system of circularity.”

Separation of different plastics types for individual recycling faces formidable practical and economical challenges. These include the lack of financial means along with logistical difficulties precluding the municipalities from setting up separate collection points for each different type of plastics; practical, economical and occupational health-related concerns associated with manual sorting of mixed waste; and insufficient advancement of automatic sorting technologies. With regard to the latter, FPF’s dossier summarized that , although different analytical techniques have been proposed to aid in the sorting of plastics, “efficient separation remains a challenge due to different shapes of the plastics, entrapped air, coatings and paints that slow-down or even impede the analysis.” Another challenge facing the plastics recyclers is posed by the current trend in the design of plastic packaging, which goes towards using multimaterial multilayer constructs (FPF reported), which, however, cannot be recycled by the most-widespread mechanical recycling processes.

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Plastics Recyclers Europe (November 30, 2017). “Next steps for an organized Circular Economy: Plastics recyclers’ Bales quality guidelines for EU waste collectors and sorters.