Dynamic Material Flow Analysis of PET, PE, and PP Flows in Europe: Evaluation of the Potential for Circular Economy

Marie Kampmann Eriksen*, Kostyantyn Pivnenko, Giorgia Faraca, Alessio Boldrin, Thomas Fruergaard Astrup

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

This study evaluates the potential circularity of PET, PE, and PP flows in Europe based on dynamic material flow analysis (MFA), considering product lifetimes, demand growth rates, and quality reductions of recycled plastic (downcycling). The circularity was evaluated on a baseline scenario, representing 2016 conditions, and on prospective scenarios representing key circularity enhancing initiatives, including (i) maintaining constant plastic consumption, (ii) managing waste plastic exports in the EU, (iii) design-for-recycling initiatives, (iv) improved collection, and (v) improved recovery and reprocessing. Low recycling rates (RR, 13-20%) and dependence on virgin plastic, representing 85-90% of the annual plastic demand, were demonstrated after 50 years in the baseline. Limited improvements were related to the individual scenarios, insufficient to meet existing recycling targets. However, by combining initiatives, RRs above 55%, where 75-90% was recycled in a closed loop, were demonstrated. Moreover, 40-65% of the annual demand could potentially be covered by recycled plastic. Maintaining a constant plastic demand over time was crucial in order to reduce the absolute dependence on virgin plastic, which was not reflected by the RR. Thus, focusing strictly on RRs and even whether and to which extent virgin material is substituted, is insufficient for evaluating the transition toward circularity, which cannot be achieved by technology improvements alone-the demand must also be stabilized.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Volume54
Issue number24
Pages (from-to)16166–16175
ISSN0013-936X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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