Plastic chemical recycling should complement mechanical says Zero Waste Europe report

Joan Marc Simon Zero Waste Europe
Joan Marc Simon, executive director, Zero Waste Europe

Zero Waste Europe has published a report that suggests plastic chemical recycling should work with mechanical recycling.

Under chemical recycling (CR), thermochemical processes are used to reduce the material typically to a monomer or gas that can be used to create new products.


The Zero Waste Europe study found that CR is beneficial because mechanical recycling (MR) cannot endlessly recycle plastics without reducing its properties and quality.

CR could therefore complement MR when the latter is unsuited to materially recover plastic because it is too degraded, contaminated or too complex.

However, the report warns that it would not be advantageous if this technology is used to turn plastics into fuels.

As a result, it has suggested these recommendations:

  • Come up with a clear definition of CR that excludes any operation that does not result in the production of new plastic.
  • Only processes with a lower carbon footprint than the production of plastic from virgin feedstock can be classified as CR.
  • CR should be used to deal with degraded and contaminated plastics and never with plastics coming from separate collection. 
  • Establish verification systems to ensure CR process outputs plastic and plastic feedstocks; facilities licensed for chemical recycling should not produce fuel as primary output.
  • In order to avoid competition with mechanical recycling, but also to differentiate from recovery and disposal operations, a new level in the waste hierarchy should be added for those operations that recover materials from mixed waste that today would end up burned or landfilled.
  • For coherence with EU Climate and Circular Economy agendas EU funding should only be allowed to finance plastic to plastic chemical operations.

Overall, Zero Waste Europe wants priority to be on prevention and reuse of plastic.

Its executive director Joan Marc Simon said: “The chemical recycling hype should not divert attention from the real solution to plastic pollution which is replacing single-use plastics, detoxifying and simplifying new plastics, and designing business models to make efficient use of plastics.”

View the report here

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