Chemical Recycling: Making Plastics Circular


Welcome to the European Chemical Industry ‘Virtual Exhibition on Chemical Recycling’

In Europe, about 30 million tonnes of plastic waste is collected every year. But still 85% of that ends up in landfill or is incinerated. This is not only a source of CO2 emissions but is also a waste of valuable resources. The chemical industry is determined to change this. How? With chemical recycling technologies, the industry has developed complementary solutions to existing mechanical recycling to recycle mixed or contaminated plastic waste that otherwise would be incinerated or sent to landfill. These technologies can break down plastics and transform them into valuable secondary raw materials to produce new chemicals and plastics with the same quality as those made from fossil resources. Together with value chain partners, the chemical industry has already successfully developed consumer products like food packaging, refrigerator parts, mattresses, carpets, and dashboards in cars.  As a next step, after having demonstrated the technologies’ viability, the industry plans to roll out the technologies at industrial scale.

Discover how chemical recycling technologies make plastics circular and explore Cefic’s members’ concrete examples

The infographic shows how chemical recycling technologies can help to move from a linear plastic economy (produce – use – dispose) to a circular one (cradle-to-cradle). Complementing mechanical recycling, ‘Dissolution’, ‘Depolymerisation’ and ‘Conversion’ are new recycling routes that can handle the plastic waste that would otherwise be disposed. They transform plastic waste into secondary raw materials that can be reintroduced at different steps of the plastic production process.

Click on any of the new recycling routes to learn more about each of the technologies and discover companies concrete examples on chemical recycling.

How does chemical recycling work?

Chemical recycling technologies can break down plastics into its building blocks and transform them into valuable secondary raw materials. These materials can then be used to produce new chemicals and plastics. There are various chemical recycling technologies available that follow three new recycling routes to treat plastic waste:

Achieving a circular economy for plastic: from a ‘waste-orientated’ to a ‘resource-orientated’ economy

By implementing chemical recycling technologies at scale in Europe, the chemical industry can increase resource efficiency and help to close the loop in the transition to a circular economy for plastics. Today’s worthless plastic waste would become economically attractive to recycle, thanks to the ways chemical recycling can turn it into valuable secondary raw materials. We believe this will accelerate the shift from a ‘waste-orientated’ to a ‘resource-orientated’ economy helping to create a true single market for secondary raw materials. It will make Europe less dependent on carbon imports, as carbon-rich waste streams can be used as a readily available resource.

Positive environmental footprint: chemical recycling helps to reduce landfill and the leakage of plastics into the environment

Globally, chemical recycling is an important mean to fight the leakage of plastic waste into the environment, especially the littering of our oceans. Chemical recycling has an overall lower carbon footprint compared to today’s end-of-life practices of incineration and landfilling. One recent study found that chemical recycling (pyrolysis) of mixed plastic waste emits less CO2 than incineration of the same waste. This was underlined by the new Cefic-Quantis LCA report that was completed recently.

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