Total output price index in national currency (Gross data) 2010 = 100 (green circle); Industry production index (Seasonally adjusted data) 2010 = 100 (grey circle); Source: Eurostat, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/short-term-business-statistics/data/database

U.K.-based RECOUP (Recycling of Used Plastics Ltd.) has begun preparations for its Plastics Recycling Conference, 29 September 2016, in Peterborough, U.K.

In addition to headline speaker Tom Heap of the BBC’s Countryfile and Radio 4, the event will feature Dr. Jur Helmut Maurer, who says the industry must act to address how plastics end up in landfills or as litter in developing countries.

However, even in Europe, too much plastic ends up in landfills, RECOUP says, estimating a 30% rate.

Maurer supports a global landfill ban, saying he believes it is the only way to prevent millions of tonnes of plastic from ending up in oceans and breaking down into microplastics.

He says, “We need to talk globally—oceans don’t have borders. However, we also need to be working on the chemistry of plastics materials. Products need to be made with materials that are designed to be recycled and [that] do not contain toxic additives that can make recycling difficult.”

Where plastic is used in more complex consumer products, Maurer says, it must not facilitate early obsolescence; products must be designed to be refurbished and repairable.

“Producers know their material best, and for recyclers it is extremely important to have that same knowledge, so there is a lot to be done to facilitate this knowledge transfer. Yet, there are plenty of things that can be done to enhance domestic plastic recycling,” he continues, noting establishing recycling targets, creating incentives for high-quality recycling and increasing supply through separate collection and implementing a landfill ban as possible examples.

Regarding recovering energy from plastics, Maurer says he supports this only when it happens within the limits of the waste hierarchy.

Stuart Foster, RECOUP CEO, says, “Following an excellent presentation at our 2014 event, we are delighted that Dr. Maurer will be joining the debate at the RECOUP Plastics Recycling Conference on 29 September 2016. It promises to be a thought-provoking day.”

More information on the event is available at www.recoup.org/conference-2016.

Plastics also were the topic of discussion in a number of sessions at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) 2016 Convention & Exhibition in Las Vegas April 2-7.

While the price of oil may influence how plastic scrap is valued, public opinion and corporate directives help to ensure plastic scrap enters the recycling chain, according to presenters at the event.

Mark Eramo, a vice president with Houston-based IHS Chemical, said the process chain from energy exploration through chemicals production into plastic commodities and end products involves numerous variables that affect supply, demand and price of virgin plastics.

He listed more than a half-dozen key variables affecting this chain in 2016, including the price of crude oil, the health of China’s economy, the lifting of sanctions in Iran and the sustainability movement.

Regarding where plastics manufacturers and users rate sustainability as a priority, Eramo said, “I would rate it extremely high.”

Considering these variables, he said IHS sees crude oil and virgin plastics prices bottoming out in the first half of 2016 before rebounding slowly in the second half of 2016 and into 2017. It could be 2021, however, before oil returns to a sustained $80-per-barrel level. “It’s going to be a while before you see $1,600 to $1,800 [per metric tonne for virgin plastics] in these markets again,” Eramo said.

Recycled plastics markets add more variables, according to Patty Moore of Moore Recycling Associates Inc., Sonoma, California. She said pricing for plastic scrap in 2015 and so far in 2016 has been “rather bleak,” but added, “I do believe better times are coming.”

Moore said recycled-content polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) has at times sold at higher prices than virgin PET, a situation that she said “makes me nervous” because it could cause users to pull back on purchases.

Among the problems in the U.S. rPET market is “pretty serious reclamation overcapacity,” Moore said. “We could easily absorb all the PET bottles generated in the U.S.”