Setting up strategies for a sound management of plastic packaging waste (PPW) is becoming increasingly crucial at many levels of the value chain in Europe. After the very first implementation of an extended producer responsibility scheme in Germany in 1991, many EU Countries followed. This resulted in a complex network of schemes that differ from one member state to another. This paper brings together the three latest studies describing the current flows of PPW across the waste value chain from Austria (reference year 2013), Germany and the Netherlands (reference year 2017). With this aim, the models of the three single studies have been adapted to fit into a common model, allowing to perform a comparative analysis. Although with a relatively comparable product market, the three countries have different management systems (e.g., separate collection systems, target sorting products and treatment of residual waste), reflecting different national strategies to achieve the circular economy targets. Recycling rates (in terms of washed milled goods at the output of the recycling process) for the three countries resulted in 23%, 43% and 30% of the total mass of PPW generated in, respectively, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. The fraction of mixed recycled plastics, relevant for Germany and the Netherlands only, was determined to be one of the major determinants of the differences in recycling rates. Furthermore, the discussion revolves around new political targets that have the potential to contribute to addressing the issue of tradeoff between quantity and quality of recycled plastics placed on the market, with measures such as design-for-recycling and eco-modulation of EPR fees playing a critical role, while also pointing out the aspects that inevitably hinder closed-loop recycling.
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