Connect Circular Economy

The European chemical industry can become central to Europe’s circular economy. From the design phase of products to their end-of-life, the chemical industry can offer innovative solutions to the benefit of the sector itself and throughout the value chain, enabling downstream industries to become more circular. By transforming waste into valuable, new raw materials, and the use of circular feedstock, industry performs a crucial role as recycler for the circular society, thereby contributing to achieve several of the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 9 ‘Industry, innovation and infrastructure’ and SDG 12 ‘Responsible consumption and production’.

Note that all graphs below are clickable to enlarge.

Contribution to the EU Green Deal

The European Commission adopted the new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) in March 2020 and is Europe’s agenda for sustainable growth. The action plan announces initiatives along the entire life cycle of products. It targets how products are designed, promotes circular economy processes, encourages sustainable consumption, and aims to ensure that waste is prevented, and resources used are kept in the EU economy as long as possible. The chemical industry contributes to the CEAP by focusing on recycling and reuse of resources through the use of alternative feedstock as well as by putting circularity as a criterium when designing chemicals and materials for a wide variety of applications.

Increase share of alternative feedstock

One of the key pathways to a successful transition towards a climate neutral circular economy is the use of alternative and more circular feedstocks, such as (plastic) waste, captured CO2, and biobased materials.

In 2020, in addition to the 18,5 million tons of natural gas that was consumed by the chemical sector as energy, 14,2 Mt was consumed as feedstock and transformed into a chemical product. For oil & petroleum products, 6 Mt was consumed as energy source and 23,5 Mt as raw material. When looking at naphtha, 1,1 Mt was used as energy source and 30,2 Mt was used as feedstock.

The chemical industry aims to increase the use of alternative feedstock in its processes. The European Commission’s communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles has set an aspirational target of 20% on the share of sustainable non-fossil carbon in chemical and plastic products. In parallel, it is important to assess the carbon and environmental footprint of these alternatives and their impact on performance and functionality of end products to compare it to those of current fossil-derived products. For instance, the use of alternative feedstock might come with decreased material & energy efficiencies that should be evaluated against the feedstocks which are deployed today.

Biobased feedstock

The turnover of biobased chemicals fluctuated between 30 and 40 billion over the period 2008-2017. In 2018 and 2019 values are above 40 billion euro. The share of biobased chemicals turnover on total chemicals turnover varies between 6 to 8% with an increasing trend since 2012. However, when using biobased materials as feedstock, it is important to keep in mind that they could be in competition with other types of land use which may need to be prioritised from a public policy perspective, such as food supply, but also amenities that ecosystems provide, such as carbon removal and biodiversity . These are limiting factors of the availability of biomass for the chemical and other sectors. When deploying biomass as industrial feedstock, a constant supply needs to be guaranteed, supply and production infrastructure need to be adjusted and the quality of biobased products needs to be constant and remain high.

Turnover and share of biobased chemicals


Value added biobased chemicals vs value added total EU biobased products


The value added of biobased chemicals, which is around 1.6% of the total biobased value-added,  fluctuated before 2012, but since then due to an increasing focus high value added products (IEA, 2020) an increase of the added value is observed from 6.5 to 9.7 billion euro.

Absolute and share of recycled plastics*

*Absolute amount in weight and share of recycled content in new plastic products.

Key levers for industry activity & company examples

1. Accelerate the commercialisation of sustainable solutions in a circular bioeconomy

2. Using CO2 as a feedstock

3. Create new business models to integrate primary and market sectors as strategic partners

4. Development and production of performance modifiers to increase efficiency of mechanical recycling

5. Foster new purchasing and consumption patterns for a circular economy

6. Establish climate neutral operations to mitigate climate change

7. Using residues and waste as feedstock

Associated SDG targets

UN SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

© Reserved copyrights UN SDGs

SDG 12-ResponsibleConsumptionAndProduction

SDG14 Life below water