Study confirms rising imports of recycled plastic threaten EU industry

28 February 2024

2023 showed a heavy destabilisation of the European plastics sector[1]. Increasing imports of recycled plastics into the EU are creating an unbalanced market with serious environmental consequences. This, combined with the EU's declining competitiveness and the lack of a level playing field, is accelerating the EU's de-industrialisation.

In this context, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) is meant to enhance circularity by harmonising practices across EU Member States, addressing EU waste effectively, and creating a market for recycled products. However, the policy direction taken in the trilogues is making the initial optimism fade away. Allowing non-EU plastic waste to contribute to the targets even for packages produced and filled in the EU, while not having any reliable control and verification mechanisms implemented, would negatively impact an already shrinking and threatened market.

In 2023, the market already responded to this destabilisation by increasing exports of EU plastic waste by 18%[2]. These paradoxical circumstances result in more EU waste being landfilled and incinerated, leading to severe pollution of ecosystems and jeopardising the environmental objectives of the European Green Deal.

This has been confirmed in a recent issue brief [3], built on a 2023 study[4]. Using the case of PET and polyester, it warns of the impact of reducing or stopping future investments in Europe's recycling systems. Less or no investments in the EU would lead to European greenhouse gas emissions more than doubling by 2040, as more waste would be incinerated rather than recycled. The study also shows that the PET recycling rate would fall to between 32% and 38% by 2040, compared to the estimated 67% in the circular scenario.

The competitiveness of the already threatened European industry is also being put at stake. The PPWR must ensure a policy framework that addresses the supply and demand of recycled content in a coherent way, together with finding a sustainable solution to waste management in the EU.

As things stand, the legislators are sending a misleading message - that investments in the European plastics recycling value chain are not worth making. Recyclers are the first to suffer the consequences, but converters and raw material producers are next in line.

We urgently call on EU institutions to introduce safeguards for the European plastics industry and level the playing field. Furthermore, claims about transitioning to a circular economy and ensuring the long-term competitiveness of the EU[5] will be empty words if the EU institutions fail to take the necessary measures to make these goals come to fruition.

[1] Plastics Recyclers Europe Press Release, October 2023
[2] Eurostat, EU trade since 1 988 byHS2-4-6 and CN8 [DS-045409]
[3] Circular PET and Polyester: Issue brief
[4] Circular PET and Polyester - Full Report by Systemiq
[5] Communication - Long-term competitiveness of the EU: looking beyond 2030


Plastics Recyclers Europe is an organization representing the voice of the European plastics recyclers who reprocess plastic waste into high quality material destined for production of new articles. Recyclers are important facilitators of the circularity of plastics and the transition towards the circular economy.

Plastics recycling in Europe is a rapidly growing industry representing over €10.4 billion in turnover, 12.5 million tonnes of installed recycling capacity, around 850 recycling facilities and over 30.000 employees.

Contact: [email protected];