Could chemical recycling technologies help bring businesses closer to shaping a circular economy for plastics? A new Quantis report commissioned by the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic) attempts to answer this question — and more — by taking a critical look at the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of chemical recycling and its potential to close the plastic loop.
Plastic recycling rates are strikingly low, with less than 30% of plastics collected for recycling today in Europe. Incremental interventions (a signature of business-as-usual) won’t make a dent in the plastic waste problem. Turning the tide on plastic pollution and avoiding GHG emissions associated with its disposal will require businesses to embrace systemic change, seek out innovative solutions and think outside the box to boost recycling rates. Added to this equation, chemical recycling technologies could help lay the groundwork for a new plastic economy.
Chemical recycling technologies for plastic waste could help fill a critical gap in shaping a circular economy for plastics and reducing GHG emissions.
So, what do the report’s findings mean for business? Tackling the plastics problem requires companies to take a systems-level approach — stepping in at different stages of the life cycle — and look for additional ways to improve recycling rates when “reduce”, “reuse” and existing mechanical recycling aren’t possible. Chemical recycling technologies can be used to recycle mixed or contaminated plastic waste that would otherwise be incinerated or sent to landfill.
But before embracing new solutions such as these, companies need to ensure they align with their climate strategies and don’t simply shift negative impacts from one area of the value chain to another. This requires assessing the climate impact and trade-offs of potential solutions. Through providing a better view of the GHG emissions impacts of chemical recycling, Chemical Recycling: Greenhouse gas emission reduction potential of an emerging waste management route is a valuable first step in understanding its potential.