Developing Options for Measuring Recycled Content

19th November 2020

We are pleased to announce that we have been commissioned with our partners IVL and Denkstatt to deliver an important project for the European Commission. The study is focused on developing ways to measure the amount of recycled content in plastics. The work will feed into plans to reduce the impact of plastic products on the environment.

Following the European Plastics Strategy, the European Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan 2.0 made commitments to increase the recycling of plastics, boost recycled content and reduce the use of virgin materials. This spurred the introduction in the Single Use Plastics Directive of mandatory requirements for minimum levels of recycled content in new plastic beverage containers. In addition, as highlighted above, the Commission intends to introduce further recycled content targets for plastics.

To implement these requirements, ways to reliably calculate, verify and report the recycled content must be developed. However, for many types of plastics, once manufactured it can be very difficult to distinguish recycled from virgin materials. As a result, measuring recycled content is complex and requires tracing of products to their production source. This project will aim to solve these complexities and develop a useable methodology for calculating recycled content in any plastic product.

Along with our partners we will carry out the following tasks:

  • Screen and assess the practices currently used in different Member States and industries for calculating, verifying and reporting the percentage of recycled plastics used in products;
  • Develop a general method for calculating, verifying and reporting of recycled plastic content in products;
  • Develop specific methods and rules for calculating, verifying and reporting recycled plastic content in single-use plastic beverage bottles; and
  • Adapt the method to other sectors beyond single-use packaging such as other packaging, vehicles, electric and electronic equipment, and construction sectors.

Throughout the project, we will engage closely with stakeholders via surveys and workshops to review the development of a method for monitoring recycled plastics content.

The study will support the Commission in its development of implementing acts that aim to create a consistent method to measure recycled content so that Member States are able to monitor compliance with the minimum recycled content requirement, with the ultimate goal of reducing the impact of plastic products on the environment.

Tim Elliott, Project Director, said of the project: “This is an important milestone in the development of waste policy for the EU. The need to increase recycled content is clear in the context of the circular economy, and many organisations and countries have, or are looking to, set recycled content targets. The current approaches to measuring recycled content are variable and inconsistent, leading to a lack of comparability of different targets and objectives. Whilst the primary aim of the project is to set the conditions for measuring recycled content of plastic beverage containers under the Single Use Plastics Directive, it will undoubtedly become the benchmark for how measurement is undertaken across the board.”

Image courtesy of Ricardo Bernardo via zone41.org (CC BY-ND 2.0).