Technological watch

Advanced Recycling Already Providing a Sustainable Path to a Circular Economy for Plastics

WASHINGTON (July 29, 2020) – Yesterday, GAIA released a report, “All Talk and No Recycling: AnInvestigation of the U.S. ‘Chemical Recycling’ Industry.” The American ChemistryCouncil issued the following statement, which many be attributed to KeithChristman, managing director of plastic markets:

Through the American Chemistry Council (ACC), America’s plastic makers are working toward creating a world where plastic waste does not end up in the environment but instead is collected and reused as a valuable resource to create new items. To help make this circular economy for plastics a reality, we must collectively change the way we think about waste, develop innovative technologies, and modernize our recycling infrastructure. An important piece of the innovation puzzle is advanced recycling.

Advanced recycling, also called “chemical recycling,” refers to several different processes to convert post-use plastics into their original building blocks, specialty chemicals, feedstocks for new chemicals and plastics and other valuable products. Major brands like Mondel?z International and Unilever are providing packaging, safe for food contact and made from advanced recycling technologies. This type of recycled content is achieved through a mass balance allocation process certified by the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification PLUS (ISCC+). 

Advanced plastics recycling is not only viable at commercial scale but also offers significant economic opportunities as we move toward greater circularity for plastic. According to an analysis conducted by McKinsey & Co., recycling and recovery of U.S. plastic packaging and foodservice items could represent an economic opportunity of $2 billion to $4 billion per year. Additionally, Closed Loop Partners, a New York based investment firm, estimates that new innovations in advanced recycling is a potential $120 billion addressable market in the United States and Canada alone.

To that end, in just the past three years, nearly $5 billion in private-sector investments, in both mechanical and advanced recycling, has been announced to help modernize the U.S. recycling infrastructure and expand the types and volumes of plastics that can be reused or incorporated into a circular economy.

Advanced recycling complements mechanical recycling and reduces the environmental footprint of plastics packaging. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) conducted by  Sphera for BASF1, which was reviewed by three independent experts, concludes that advanced/chemical recycling (pyrolysis) of mixed plastic waste emits 50% less CO2 than incineration of mixed plastic waste.

We agree that everyone has a role to play in ending plastic waste, including the plastics value chain, government, recyclers, NGOs and citizens. Solving this problem will require a variety of solutions, and we believe advanced recycling is an essential part of the mix.

References:

  • https://www.basf.com/global/en/who-we-are/sustainability/we-drive-sustainable-solutions/circular-economy/mass-balance-approach/chemcycling/lca-for-chemcycling.html (BASF, 2020)
  • Publication date: 28/07/2020

    American Plastics Council

    This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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    Last update: 2020-07-14