Energy recovery should be a last resort for plastic recycling according to the European Commission (EC).
Incineration fails to recover any of the energy from the processes used to create plastic, said Helmut Maurer of the EC’s waste and recycling division at the Identiplast conference in Rome.
He said that plastic reprocessing is more energy efficient and reduces the reliance on oil when creating plastic packaging and other commodities.
However, it was acknowledged that recovery can be the only option for a minority of plastic types that cannot be economically reprocessed.
“Our way of counting recycling is flawed,” Maurer said.
“We are lying to everyone. We do not recycle, we incinerate and incineration is not recycling.”
He said that companies such as Tetrapak boasted about the quantities of plastic that they were recycling when in reality a large proportion was being sent to recovery.
Some producers reportedly believed that consumers were unwilling to change their habits around recycling and that oxo-degradable plastics was a more realistic solution.
Maurer said that reprocessing was still the preferable option because these products encouraged the “proliferation of hazardous material in the environment.”
He also told delegates that waste prevention should not be a part of the waste hierarchy “because it has nothing to do with waste”.
Instead, waste prevention should be achieved at the stage of production using policies around packaging to encourage sustainability.
Maurer stressed the need to implement these changes in the near future. He said: “We are far too slow in every way, industry is too slow, policy makers are too slow, we are all too slow to understand the speed at which we need to change.”