The quantity of plastic recycled in the EU is staggeringly low. Just 15% of EU-collected plastic waste finds its way back into the EU plastic market. If we are to create a cleaner and more competitive Europe – one of the objectives of the upcoming EU Circular Economy Action Plan – we must make boosting plastic waste recycling rates an urgent priority in the next few years.
Solutions to accelerate plastic recycling already exist. Chemical recycling is a key technology that can transform plastic waste into valuable feedstock to produce chemicals and plastics.
The European chemical industry has committed to work with other organisations to ensure that 10m tonnes of recycled plastic find their way back into products by 2025. The industry’s role is to help scale up the chemical recycling technology so that it could become a viable recycling option for plastic waste.
With a set of targeted policy measures, this emerging technology could pave the way to a fully circular economy for plastics in the EU. We are proud to be a member of the Circular Plastic Alliance and Cefic members are committed to helping the EU to increase its chemical recycling capacity.
Why does chemical recycling matter?
Chemical recycling, also known as feedstock recycling, is a process where the chemical structure of the polymer is changed and converted into chemical building blocks, including monomers, that are then used again as a raw material in chemical processes. In other words, chemical recycling breaks down plastic waste back into feedstock to make new chemicals and plastics.
The result is less use of fossil feedstock to produce plastic and fewer emissions from incineration and energy recovery.
Chemical recycling solves a problem that mechanical recycling cannot solve. It can process contaminated and mixed plastic waste that cannot be recycled through mechanical recycling and would otherwise end up in incineration or landfill. Chemical recycling is therefore an excellent complementary solution to mechanical recycling for plastic waste management.
Europe does not just need a circular economy, but a safer circular economy. Thanks to its potential to capture and separate the so-called “legacy chemicals” and substances of very high concern (SVHC) that can be present in end-of-life plastic, chemical recycling can help with this job.
Finally, plastics produced from chemically-recycled feedstock have a quality which is equivalent to those made from “virgin” materials. They can therefore be used everywhere, from food packaging to medical applications.
Building the business case
There are currently only a few chemical recycling demonstration facilities in Europe despite the fact that the technology is there. This is because current waste policies were not designed to promote investment in chemical recycling – and therefore they do not recognise chemical recycling as a viable technology. Hence It is not yet profitable to set up a chemical recycling facility.
The policy framework needs to be adapted to reflect the availability of this new technology to manage plastic waste – and all actors in the plastic value chain must agree on a common approach to chemical recycling.
Chemical recycling can only succeed if we connect all pieces of the value chain together and devise a common approach. This is why the chemical industry has already started working with all members of the plastic value chain to address a number of operational issues, including the development of quality standards for sorted plastic waste.
We are working on this through initiatives such as the Circular Plastics Alliance, among others.
A single market for waste in the EU would fully unlock the potential of chemical recycling. The creation of this market should put a hard stop to exporting waste outside of Europe, which would immediately increase the domestic supply of waste available for mechanical and chemical recycling.
Better access to public and private funding to share the costs of building chemical recycling facilities would help drive forward this new technology. Making the chemical recycling project eligible for support under EU schemes such as IPCEI (important projects of common European interest) we could accelerate the deployment of these facilities across the EU.
Chemical recycling is one of the technologies developed by the chemical industry to keep materials in the loop for as long as possible. Bringing this technology to life will move the goal of a fully circular economy for plastics more closely within reach and be a game changer for many future generations to come.
Published on chemicalwatch.com
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