PETnology Handbook 2024


New European Commission study confirms chemical recycling is better than incineration of plastic waste

Brussels, Belgium

In Europe, about 30 million tonnes of plastic waste is collected every year. Still, 84% of that does not find its way back into new products, as most of it is incinerated, exported or sent to landfill. A mix of various technologies, including mechanical and chemical recycling, is urgently needed for the EU to change the status-quo and turbocharge plastic recycling rates.

A new report published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre “Environmental and economic assessment of plastic waste – A comparison of mechanical, physical, chemical recycling and energy recovery of plastic waste” did a comparative environmental and economic assessment of plastic waste recycling and energy recovery technologies.

The study came to a clear recommendation: from a climate change perspective and based on – Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), the preferred management option for plastic waste is recycling (mechanical, physical or chemical). Recycling (mechanical, physical or chemical) is preferable to energy recovery (incineration) in all analysed pathways. As the European energy mix will get cleaner, the gap between recycling and energy recovery will further increase in favour of recycling, the study concludes.

Annick Meerschman, Director Innovation in Cefic, commented:

“The results of the study confirm the benefits of recycling over incineration. It also shows an important role of chemical recycling as a complimentary solution to mechanical recycling. We should use the ongoing reform of the EU legislative framework on waste, including the revision of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation and the implementing act of the Single Use Plastics Directive as a key opportunity to create necessary policy incentives to scale up chemical recycling in the EU and provide clear recycled content calculating rules for the recycled content target.

More than that, chemical recycling, together with mechanical and physical recycling processes scale-up, is vital for EU’s strategic autonomy as waste will be a valuable resource in a circular society we are building now. This is helping the plastics/chemical industry to reduce the dependance on fossil raw materials and associated carbon emissions at the end of use.”

The importance of Mass Balance

Clarifying the use of a mass balance chain of custody method to calculate the recycled content of plastics in products is one the most important drivers of investments into chemical recycling in the EU. The importance of Mass Balance is explained here.

The Transition Pathway for the Chemical Industry recently published by the European Commission also recognises the importance of using waste as an alternative feedstock and Mass Balance calculation method in the chemical industry on the road to the 2050 climate neutrality goal.

5 things that need to happen now for chemical recycling to contribute to EU circular economy

  1. Create an EU single market for waste and end-of-life resources
  2. Recognise all recycling technologies across all releavant EU legislation
  3. Recognise a verified mass balance approach to calculate chemically recycled content in plastics and chemicals
  4. Ensure the reliability and workability of mass balance
  5. Drive investments into plastic recycling r&d programmes and new business models

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