There is no doubt that waste sorting in the Czech Republic is at a high level. This is also proven by Eurostat's long-term comparative statistics. However, the Czech Republic has reserves in terms of ensuring subsequent recycling, which often faces limited capacity and, in the case of some materials, a lack of recycling technology. However, the EU is pushing recycling targets ever higher and the Czech Republic, like other countries, must meet them. How to reach the raised bar?
In the Czech Republic, the Authorised Packaging Company EKO-KOM, which is responsible for ensuring the operation of the domestic packaging waste sorting and recycling system, is responsible for meeting the set recycling targets for packaging. It has described in detail how it will achieve the targets for each year in its Strategy 21+, where it envisages the involvement of many instruments. This document has been updated relatively recently, as several new legislative guidelines have been issued since its original version, for example further specifying the scope of the obligations under the SUP Directive for plastic beverage bottles. However, already last year, EKO-KOM had to react to the fact that the efficiency of the sorting lines in sorting waste for material recycling was gradually decreasing and the share of alternative fuel production was increasing. This decline occurred especially during the first pandemic year, so last year EKO-KOM already increased the financial reward for sorting lines to motivate them to increase the rate of re-sorting for material recycling. From 1 January 2022, it then increased the remuneration for treatment and recovery operators (including final processors) by an average of about 6%.
The ongoing economic and energy crisis this year has resulted in fluctuations in demand for secondary raw materials and processors have been dealing not only with reduced demand for several months, but also and especially with high energy prices, which are an increasingly significant cost item.
In reality, this year there was a threat of restrictions especially in the area of processing sorted packaging waste. In order to avoid this scenario, AOS EKO-KOM proceeded to further financial interventions. On the basis of a significant increase in the energy costs necessary for the implementation of material recycling of secondary raw materials and also in order to maintain processing capacities, the remuneration for the processors of plastic packaging waste was increased from 1 July 2022, and the remuneration for the converters, i.e. the re-sorting lines for paper and plastic waste, was also increased from Q4. The fundamental objective of these measures is to maintain a stable flow of sorted packaging waste from municipalities to treatment lines to final processing by recyclers.
The treatment of one tonne of waste requires electricity in the range of 20 to 100 kWh per tonne. This means an increase in costs of hundreds of crowns per tonne of packaging due to increased energy prices. This has an even greater impact on recycling - recycling one tonne of waste requires energy in the range of 300 to 1000 kWh per tonne of waste. In real terms, this represents a cost increase of thousands of crowns per tonne of packaging. In a normal situation, roughly half of all these costs are usually offset by the revenues of waste companies from the sale of recyclate. In the case of cleaner wastes, such as group and transport packaging from commercial or industrial sources, the costs are almost completely offset by the sale of recyclate. However, this rule is not working very well now that the prices of secondary raw materials have plummeted. For the most valuable commodities, prices have fallen by half, but many commodities are now "traded" at zero prices and in some cases the processor even demands payment for taking the waste for recycling.
In connection with EU directives, EKO-KOM a.s. continued to introduce the so-called ecomodulation of selected packaging so that packaging that is easier to recycle and has a lower environmental impact is favoured. Another innovation that has been and continues to be a big theme this year is the fulfilment of the prescribed requirements arising from Directive (EU) 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the reduction of the environmental impact of certain plastic products. Producers of selected single-use plastic products are required to contribute to the costs incurred by municipalities for the clean-up of littering waste, i.e. waste discarded outside of designated disposal sites. It was necessary to agree on the principle of the financial contribution with the representatives of the municipalities and towns associated in the Association of Towns and Municipalities and the Association of Local Authorities. Therefore, municipalities and towns will receive financial support of around CZK 50 million in 2023 for the defined types of packaging waste.
In addition to financial interventions to ensure the functioning of the entire system of sorting and recycling of packaging waste, EKO-KOM also participates in a number of waste projects. Recently, the production of flakes from non-drink PET packaging has been tested and the possibility of recycling them into textile fibres or resins will be further investigated. These packages cannot be recycled together with beverage PET bottles due to the slightly different physicochemical properties of the material. Consultations and technical trials were also held throughout the year with companies preparing to build automated waste sorting lines. A detailed analysis of the operational and economic requirements of such re-sorting is in preparation for future stringent targets for the recyclate content of selected packaging types and also for the regulation of quality requirements for recycling processes.