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According to latest European Commission forecasts, Europe’s economy is expected to grow 1.2% in 2024 while the projection for Germany is growth of 0.8%, which would end the recession seen in this country throughout 2023.

In the German plastics recycling industry, however, there is no growth in sight. Bankruptcy is being declared by a rising number of German plastics recyclers owing to difficult market conditions; some 30% of domestic capacity is expected to have vanished by the end of 2024. Recycling facilities were being purchased for sky-high prices two years ago but many recyclers are now going out of business without anyone offering to buy them or even just to take over their debt.

Since 2022, achievable prices for regrind and regranulate have been roughly cut in half while the costs of energy, labour and transportation have risen dramatically. Downstream demand for products is low.

Recyclate prices continued to drop in the latter months of 2023 throughout all the thermoplastic categories - including mass-market polymers such as PE and PP, as well as technical polymers such as PA. Shortly before Christmas when most recyclers had already given up on the year, a slow pick-up was experienced in market demand which has continued to date in early 2024.

Prices for plastic scrap exports to Asia have also dropped, although for a different reason. Container prices have broadly tripled owing to the attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, leading to lower export prices out of Europe.

As for legislation, the German government agreed in December to introduce a tax on non-recycled plastic packaging at the beginning of 2025. This is supposed to pass the EU plastic levy of roughly Euro 1.4 billion per year on to plastics manufacturers and distributors. The EU plastic levy has existed since 2021 and has been financed to date from the German federal tax budget.

The government has yet to work out through what means this tax should be paid. Germany’s plastics manufacturers have argued strongly that a tax solely on plastic packaging would be a setback for the circular economy as it would lead to increased substitution of plastics by composite packaging materials which are often harder to recycle. Instead, they contend, there should be a material-neutral levy based on ecological criteria.

From 2024, the deposit requirement for single-use plastic (SUP) bottles will extend to milk and milk products, thus ending the last of the transition periods for certain SUP bottles. Now all SUP bottles are required to include a deposit of 25 cents, to be returned to the supermarkets at end-of-life.

Marvin Pfeiffer

Sinox Polymers GMBH (DEU), Board Member of the BIR Plastics Committee


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