Europe’s recycling markets at risk of post-consumer bale shortages because of coronavirus

9th April 2020 | Recycling

Security of post-consumer waste supply across parts of Europe is at risk from coronavirus restrictions due to lack of manpower, sources in the recycled plastics market said this week. Post-consumer bales (PCB) is the major feedstock for all recycle polymer chains, although post-industrial material is also used as a feedstock for some major polymers. The largest recycled polymer markets globally are recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET), recycled polyethylene (R-PE) and recycled polypropylene (R-PP).

PCB are collected either via deposit return scheme (DRS) – predominant in countries such as Germany – or curb-side collection, which is predominant in countries such as France and the UK. Curb-side collection systems across Europe are largely controlled by local authorities, although often contracted out to private waste-management firms. As the coronavirus pandemic has spread across Europe, waste collection in some countries has been impacted either as a result of sickness in the workforce, or as waste collection companies have actively reduced manpower to restrict contact.


Across Europe, different governments and municipalities have handled the issue in different ways. Last month, France started to collect PSB alongside household waste – PCB and household waste used to be collected on separate days – to reduce the amount of manpower needed, with priority given to household waste.

On Tuesday, the UK government issued non-statutory guidelines to local councils and waste collection companies advising household waste should be prioritised, but that “local authorities should seek to maintain current waste services as far as possible, including the separate collection of food waste and of dry recyclable materials”.

The UK guidelines classified residual (black bag) and food waste as high priority, and dry recyclable waste, collected on a fortnightly basis, as medium. Weekly collection of dry recyclable waste was categorised as low priority, with a suggestion that weekly collection could be scaled back to fortnightly.

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