C2 Background
New material flow pattern for Germany – more recyclates and closed loop recycling of plastics

11.09.2020 There is hardly any topic of our time in which plastics do not play a – much discussed – role: modern consumer habits and their impact on the environment, resource protection and CO2 reduction in sectors such as mobility and construction, the generation of renewable energy using wind power or solar cells.

Comparison of the 2019 and 2017 processing volumes. Recyclates (light green) vs. new materials (dark green).
© Photo: PlasticsEurope
Comparison of the 2019 and 2017 processing volumes. Recyclates (light green) vs. new materials (dark green).

For many years now, a comprehensive life cycle analysis of plastics in Germany has been looking at all these diverse areas of application and also provides figures and data on the production, processing and recycling of the material. The study thus aims to contribute to objectifying the debate on plastics and documents the industry's path towards a recycling economy with plastics.

Increased amount of recycled material in 2019

For the second time in a row, the biennial material flow chart has determined the production of new plastics as well as the quantities of recycled materials produced and processed. The result for 2019 shows that recycled plastics were used more frequently than before and are becoming increasingly important as a raw material for new plastic products. Last year, for example, 13.7 percent of the volume of plastics processed was covered by recycled materials; two years earlier the proportion was 12.3 percent. Since the last survey in 2017, the volume of recycled materials has increased by around five percent per annum, which in turn has led to a decline in the volume of new plastics used. During the same period, the amount of recycled plastics decreased by more than three percent.

Plastic recyclates can be found almost everywhere

Plastic recyclates are used in virtually all segments of the market: in highly technical applications such as vehicle construction or electrical appliances and particularly frequently in the construction sector (approx. 43 percent), in packaging (approx. 24 percent) and agriculture (approx. 11 percent). The plastics value chain thus contributes to the conservation of natural resources through closed-loop recycling and securing the supply of raw materials in the future. This is also reflected in the figures for recycling in general, where growth has also been recorded. In 2019, around 2.9 million tonnes of the plastic waste produced in Germany was recycled. This means that the volume of mechanical recycling rose by 3.2 percent in a two-year comparison, which is primarily due to the increase in post-consumer waste.

More speed required for the use of recycled materials

However, there are still numerous hurdles that make plastics recycling difficult: be it the progressive landfilling of municipal waste containing plastics in some parts of Europe, difficult market conditions for recyclates or partly contradictory legal regulations, for example in the field of consumer and environmental protection. Rapid growth in the volumes of recycled materials is needed to better meet the sustainability goals of politics, business and civil society and the associated market supply of secondary raw materials.

Material flow pattern at a glance

The figures of the material flow picture in detail: In Germany, a good 20 million tonnes of plastics were produced last year, including around two million tonnes of recycled materials. 14 million tonnes were used to manufacture plastic products, of which 1.9 million tonnes consisted of recycled materials. The volume of plastic waste amounted to around 6.3 million tonnes, of which 46.4 percent was recycled materially, less than one percent raw materially and 52.8 percent energetically.

With the presented study "Stoffstrombild Kunststoffe in Deutschland 2019" the German plastics industry once again presents a continuous and (almost) unique life cycle analysis from production to the recovery of plastics and the reuse of recyclates. This forms an important basis for current sustainability discussions and thus for the development of closed cycles in the plastics sector. For the survey, more than 2000 companies from the production, processing and recycling of plastics were interviewed and official and other statistics were used.

Authors of the study

The study was prepared by Conversio Market & Strategy GmbH, commissioned by BKV GmbH and PlasticsEurope Deutschland e.V., BDE - Bundesverband der Deutschen Entsorgungs-, Wasser- und Rohstoffwirtschaft e.V., bvse - Bundesverband Sekundärrohstoffe und Entsorgung e.V., Fachverband Kunststoff- und Gummimaschinen im VDMA, IK - Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e.V., KRV - Kunststoffrohrverband e.V., AGPU - Arbeitsgemeinschaft PVC und Umwelt e.V., GKV - Gesamtverband Kunststoffverarbeitende Industrie e.V. and its supporting associations AVK - Industrievereinigung Verstärkte Kunststoffe e.V., FSK - Fachverband Schaumkunststoffe und Polyurethane e.V., GKV/TecPart - Verband Technische Kunststoff-Produkte e.V. and pro-K - Industrieverband Halbzeuge und Konsumprodukte aus Kunststoff e.V., IG BCE Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie and VCI - Verband der Chemischen Industrie.