Belgium exceeds European plastic recycling requirements


Whereas Europe requires its member states to recycle 50% of their plastic packaging by 2025, Belgium has already exceeded this target: 51 per cent of plastic household packaging was recycled in 2020. This excellent recycling rate has proved possible thanks to the major commitments made by Belgian trade and industry, given practical form in the extension of the sorting rules via the New Blue Bag.

In 2020, 94.9% of the 805,000 tonnes of household packaging put on the Belgian market was recycled. The household packaging waste recycling figures went up for the fifth year in succession. This growth can be explained by the excellent recycling results for plastic household packaging. In fact, Belgium achieved a level of 51% for this type of packaging in 2020, five years ahead of the European goal (i.e. to reach 50% in 2025).

The New Blue Bag

All households and businesses are switching to the New Blue Bag in 2021. They benefit from the extended PMD sorting rules this allows. In addition to plastic bottles and containers, Belgians can now sort almost all plastic packaging with the PMD. We collect an additional 8 kg of PMD per person, which will also be recycled. This is packaging that was previously burnt with the residual waste - such as yoghurt pots, butter tubs and plastic film.

Belgium is not only ahead as regards the quantity of recycling plastic, but also when it comes to the types of plastic that are recycled. Belgium is, for example, the only country in Europe that recycles packaging containing polystyrene, a material found among other things in yoghurt pots, and PET trays.

In fact, Belgium achieved a level of 51% for this type of packaging in 2020, five years ahead of the European goal (i.e. to reach 50% in 2025).

High-quality recycled content

In a circular economy, it is important to recycle as much material as possible to ensure that the recycled content is used as a secondary raw material for new products and packaging. Belgium is also outstripping the European expectations as regards the use of recycled materials for PET drinks packaging. In 2020, 54% of the Belgian PET recycled content was used for bottle-to-bottle applications. Europe is imposing that all plastic beverage packaging contains at least 30% recycled content by 2030.

These achievements have been made possible thanks to a uniform sorting message across the whole country. The collection procedure is identical everywhere, as is the way in which the materials collected are sorted in the five new sorting centres. This means that a constant, uniform and high-quality flow of material will head for recycling, thereby maximising the purposes for which the recycled content is used.

Future visions for recycling plastic packaging

Belgium will again be able to demonstrate its capabilities as a pioneer in plastic packaging recycling in 2021. By the end of the year, the whole country will have switched to the New Blue Bag and a total of 90,000 tonnes of additional PMD packaging will be collected to be recycled every year. Most of this packaging will be recycled in Belgium thanks to the construction of new recycling centres. This local recycling makes the secondary raw materials available for the local production market, thus strengthening the industrial network.

Out-of-home consumption of packaging is likely to increase in 2021 with the gradual resumption of leisure activities in Belgium after the various lockdowns. Specific sorting projects will allow us to collect and recycle packaging that wrongly ends up in the residual waste. Projects like the Click adopt an approach using rewards to help change public behaviour with regard to litter.

These various visions for 2021 provide a great opportunity to further increase the recycling of plastic packaging in Belgium. Now more than ever, the country is becoming the reference in the circular packaging economy.