Europe’s ambitions for a circular economy require the timely provision of good-quality recycled raw materials to manufacturers. However, according to a European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment published today, from the eight most common recyclables, only aluminium, paper and glass have well-functioning secondary markets. Lack of standardisation and competition with new materials are among the challenges for other markets, such as wood and textiles.

The EEA report ’Investigating Europe′s secondary raw material markets’ presents a set of criteria to analyse the functioning of markets for secondary, recycled raw materials. Improving markets for recycled raw materials is key to delivering a circular economy in the EU, reducing the need to extract natural resources and avoiding the associated environmental impacts.

Applying the assessment criteria on eight common secondary material markets, the EEA report concludes that only three of those — aluminium, paper and glass — are functioning well. These markets provide credible and continuous information to market stakeholders, they are international and open, and the recycled materials have a significant market share, compared with primary materials, the EEA report notes.

The five secondary raw material markets that are not functioning well include wood, plastics, biowaste, aggregates from construction and demolition waste, and textiles. According to the EEA analysis, the main problems in these markets are their small size compared with primary materials, weak demand, and lack of common specifications, which reduces the quality of materials for industrial use. In addition, some materials face specific challenges, such as competing demand for energy use in the case of wood.

Besides acknowledging the need for more information to enable a proper monitoring and assessment of the markets’ development, the EEA report presents several options to overcome market barriers for recycled raw materials. These include incentives to design products that are easier to recycle, strengthening recycling targets, increasing recycled content in new products, establishing technical standards for recycled materials and using taxes to level price competition with primary raw materials.

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