Spaniards have been in a state of confinement since March 15 owing to COVID-19; only essential activities have been allowed to continue. Despite recycling having been identified as an essential industry, these are bad times for plastics recyclers. Plastic has become cheaper to produce owing to the steep drop in the oil price, and the recycling process is now more expensive than the material itself. Also, several studies have found that the virus can remain for two to three days on plastic surfaces, thus hugely increasing the application of single-use plastics when it comes to shopping bags, medical gowns, protective apparel, etc.
Furthermore, industries considered as non-essential have remained closed for two weeks and so their usual volume of recyclables has decreased. Also, end-of-life vehicle numbers have tumbled 90% since the state of confinement began.
Despite all the negatives, there is also good news: an increase of 15% in yellow dumpster usage, especially coming from plastic containers. Some local industries are producing reusable breathing equipment and masks in order to deal with the enormous waste caused by COVID-19. Several measures have been considered to separate hospital plastics from others so that recycling is maximized. Unfortunately, the final destination for hospital plastics is incineration plants for energy recovery. In Spain, there are not enough incinerators for regular waste such as materials coming from end-of-life vehicles and scrap tyres. Therefore, hospital waste will be prioritized. This change will make it impossible to accomplish the recycling objectives of EU directives. In addition, it causes grave problems for those managers who will not be able to treat their materials in the few incineration plants around the country, intensifying the existing problem with energy recovery capacity in Spain.
In spite of this awful situation, times of crisis bring new opportunities and new goals are established, so perhaps people will show more concern for the crucial importance of recycling in preserving the environment.
Ferromolins SL (ESP), Board Member of the BIR Plastics Committee