Europe’s installed plastic recycling capacity growth slows down in 2022

The continent’s installed capacity hit 12.5 million tonnes in 2022 but growth slowed down to 10% year-on-year, putting Europe’s ability to meet its 2025 recycled content targets into question.

Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) has published its 2022 mapping of installed capacities across the continent (EU 27 member states plus the UK, Switzerland, and Norway). Amid recent announcements of European recyclers shutting down operations or going bankrupt, the figures are more positive than one might have expected.

Europe’s installed plastic recycling capacity continued to grow in 2022, reaching 12.5 million tonnes. However, the year-on-year growth rate decelerated, down from 17% the year before. The figures for 2023 are yet to be confirmed, but further deceleration is expected. Overall, the figures cast shadow on the EU’s ability to reach its recycled content targets by 2025, which require an installed capacity of 16 million tonnes by next year.

“Progress is indispensable for ensuring the viability of the plastics recycling industry,” said Ton Emans, PRE president. “While the commitment from recyclers remains strong, our sector has faced unprecedented challenges, first with the halt of activities during the COVID-19 outbreak, followed by the energy crisis in 2022. Most recently, in 2023, the concerning low demand for recyclates hit the sector, resulting from low prices for virgin plastics due to reduced industrial production in the EU and cheap imports of recycled plastic from outside the EU. Moving forward, enforcement of legislative measures will be essential in ensuring the progress can be continued,” he added.

Last October, PRE called for urgent enforcement measures to avoid a shutdown of recycling plants across Europe.

Industry in numbers

The report looks at 850 different recycling sites across Europe, the majority of which are small, with an average capacity of 15,000 tonnes. In terms of socio-economic impact, the plastics recycling sector counts with €10.4 billion in turnover and employs more than 30,000 workers.


Flexibles continue to lead in installed recycling capacities, with more than 3.3. million tonnes in 2022, or 26%. PET followed with 24% share, HDPE and PP rigid with 14% each, PVC with 9%, mixed plastics with 6%, ELV-WEEE plastics (end-of-life vehicles and electrical and electronic equipment waste) 5%, and finally PS and EPS 2%.


Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and France remained the countries with the highest installed capacity in EU27+3, accounting for 60% of the total. They are followed by the Netherlands, Poland, and Belgium.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania experiences the fastest growth in installed capacity compared with 2021.

In Spain, Italy, Poland, and Belgium, PE and PP flexibles hold the largest relative share of installed recycling capacity in comparison to other polymers, whilst in France, nearly one-third of the total capacity is dedicated to PET. In Germany, PET also accounts for around 30# of installed capacity, followed by PP & PE flexibles at around 20%.

Emissions reduction

In 2022, plastics recycling activities resulted in the reduction of more than 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to removing from circulation all Belgian passenger cars for an entire year.

PRE said bringing legislative developments, like the PPWR or the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive, to fruition will be key to driving the success of plastic’s circularity in the next years.