Chemical Recycling

What is chemical recycling?

Converting polymers back into monomers through a chemical process.

It’s a waste management technology with the purpose to convert plastic waste into a new resource such as monomers, basic-chemicals, alternative fuels etc.

Plastic waste is dumped into a bath acid to dissolve it back to its original building blocks.

Difference Between Traditional Recycling and Chemical Recycling

Traditional recycling is a physical or mechanical process; the plastic waste is shredded.

Chemical Recycling is a chemical process; the plastic waste is dissolved in acids.

Chemical Recycling Methods

  • Depolymerisation turns mono plastic (like PET bottles) back into monomers, which can be re-polymerised into new PET-based products.
  • Solvolysis (dissolution) is used to break down certain plastics like expanded polystyrene (EPS) into monomers with the aid of solvents.
  • Pyrolysis converts mixed plastics into tar oil which can be cracked down and further refined for new plastics production or fuel. Suitable plastics pyrolysis: Mixed plastic (HDPE, LDPE, PE, PP, Nylon, Teflon, PS, ABS, FRP, etc.) and multi-layered plastic.
  • Gasification is able to process unsorted, uncleaned plastic waste and turn it into syngas, which can be used to build bigger building blocks for new polymers(1). gasification plants are built at larger scale than pyrolysis, which means that the initial hurdle for investment is particularly high. Next is the dependency on waste streams that imply logistical costs, followed by fluctuating flowrates and varying compositions the syngas has on the gas grid of a chemical production complex.

Chemical Recycling Challenges

  • Fine-tune the chemical recycling technologies to make it even more performant and sustainable.
  • Find the finances to build up industrial scale chemical recycling.
  • The economic viability of chemical recycling
    • Sourcing = finding enough feedstock (chemically recyclable plastic waste).
    • sales = finding enough clients willing to pay for the chemically recycled plastic.
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Environmental impact
    • LCA = is chemical recycling really sustainable?
    • CO2 emissions = how to make chemical recycling CO2 neutral or reduce its carbon footprint
    • Production waste and residue = shall chemical recycling use million of litters of acid? How will the used acids be treated?

European Commission (EU) is not convinced

Chemical Recycling Europe will have to convince the European Commission that Chemical Recycling is a sustainable solution.

The European Commission is not convinced because there was already chemical recycling fiasco in Italy.

VinyLoop established by Solvay was supposed to process 10.000 tonnes of PVC per year, but stopped its activities in June 2018 because it was not economically viable.

Useful Links

Chemical Recycling Association and Federation


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