Closing the circle for plastic waste in Israel

Plastic is too valuable to be wasted. In Israel, SwitchMed and UNIDO support the development of a closed-loop recycling system for plastic packaging that can help reduce waste, add value to plastic waste as raw material, and develop a local recycling value chain for the industry.

Published on Wednesday 22 July 2020· INDUSTRY AND SERVICE PROVIDERS

Cheap, light and versatile, plastics have become the universal material of our economies. Consumers as businesses alike rely on plastics, but most plastic waste rarely gets a second chance. In 2015, the global production of plastics was 407 million metric tons (t), correspondingly 302 t of plastic waste was generated. These figures are expected to twofold by 2030, while only 10% of this amount will have made it to a recycling bin. Besides the significant amounts of waste this pattern creates, we also see a substantial raw material loss where plastics have a high value as a recycled raw material. Reducing the reliance on plastic as a material for single-use can only work if a complementary and circular system for plastic packaging is approached, where discarded plastics can be recovered and regenerated into new plastic.

In Israel, the plastic industry involves about 25,000 people, 400 companies, and with a turnover of 5 billion euros per year it contributes to 5-6% to the national GDP. Out of the 1 million tons of plastic waste that Israel generates each year, merely 6% gets recycled and only less than 50,000 t of recycled plastic resins are annually produced. In comparison, the EU could in 2016 recycle 42% of plastic packaging waste on an average (source: EUROSTAT). Still, the demand for recycled resins from the plastic industry in Israel is growing, and reached approximately 120,000 t in 2019, increasing the role of plastic waste as an indispensable raw material.

In SwitchMed, the United Nations Development Organization (UNIDO) has since 2014 demonstrated in Israel the benefits of a resource-efficient and sustainable production through the MED TEST II projects. The next level is to support industries to become more circular producing recycled sourced materials that can, again, be recycled.

A significant amount of post-consumer plastic waste collected through the deposit and the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes in Israel, is exported instead of being recycled locally. Considering that Israel is importing almost 80% of the virgin resins to supply its plastic sector, an efficient plastic waste recycling value chain could reduce dependence from raw material imports.

Apart from insufficient capacities, locally produced recycled plastic resins have low quality also due to the lack of national standards related to recycling processes, products, including food contact packaging material. Economic incentives and policy instruments can create an enabling environment for increasing the demand and the offer of recycled plastic resins, spurring innovation and new market opportunities along the plastic value chain.

Israel is in the process of upgrading the waste collection system to increase the quantity and the quality of sorted plastic waste while improving the ability of the local recycling industry to handle higher volumes of post-consumer plastic waste. The Ministry of Environment is also developing a new national strategy on plastic that will upgrade the existing EPR scheme for plastic packaging.

In line with this development, the second phase of the EU funded SwitchMed programme – MED TEST III project, will focus on specific actions to improve the circularity of the plastic industry in Israel in partnership with a pool of institutional stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Environment Protection, EPRs/Deposit schemes, the Manufacturers Association of Israel, and the Standards Institute of Israel.

Under the SwitchMed Programme, UNIDO will undertake the mapping of the plastic waste recycling chain and identify pilot projects for future demonstrations in Israel. In addition, a market study for setting up an rPET bottle-to-bottle recycling plant will be undertaken and the development of guidelines that can support “design for recyclability of plastic packaging”, standards and policy incentives will be undertaken. The mapping of the plastic waste recycling value chain is expected to be finalized before the end of 2020.

For more information on the MED TEST III project in Israel, click here.

Israel is importing almost 80% of the virgin resins to supply its plastic sector, an efficient plastic waste recycling value chain could reduce dependence from raw material imports.