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Chemical recycling, an opportunity for the circular economy


There is no miracle solution when it comes to making the circular economy for plastic a reality. It can only be achieved by an intelligent combination of complementary solutions that respond to the complexity of the plastic value chain (with numerous different products, types, qualities and applications). As well as increasing prevention and the reuse of plastic waste, existing and new recycling solutions need to be developed in parallel. This is where chemical recycling can make the difference. It offers the possibility of recycling mixed or contaminated plastic waste. Chemical recycling generates secondary raw materials of a quality that meets the technical requirements of the most demanding applications such as food contact, cosmetics or even biocides.

What is chemical recycling?

Just like mechanical and physical recycling (dissolution), chemical recycling (chemolysis, pyrolysis or enzymatic degradation) offers an end-of-life solution for plastic waste. The process breaks down plastic waste into a range of fragments with a low molecular weight, which can go as far as a return to the initial monomers. The resultant chemical products can serve as raw materials for the production of new plastic materials or other chemical products. Chemical recycling can be used to process flows of mixed plastic waste as well as multilayer and even contaminated packaging. It is capable of producing ‘virgin’ quality plastic that can be used for food contact and other sensitive applications for which mechanical recycling is unsuitable.

Chemical recycling can produce ‘virgin’ quality plastic that can be used for food contact and other sensitive applications

The European Union aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, that is economic activities that will result in net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. This goal lies at the heart of the Green Deal and meets the undertaking entered into by the European Union in favour of world climate action in the context of the Paris agreement. Finally, chemical recycling also contributes towards the defossilisation goal (i.e. an end to the use of fossil raw materials) and can provide the adhesives and mastics industry with raw materials for a wide range of products.

Chemical recycling will help close the plastic recycling loop by increasing recycling rates and improving the quality of recycled materials, as announced by the European Green Deal as well as the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability.


 June 15th 2022