In an attempt to prod the EU into taking action on waste prevention, the Prevent Waste Coalition has drawn up a list of 10 priorities calling for more concrete measures to address the issue. Recycling may have been given a proper framework, but waste prevention still lacks the legal, concrete and binding legislation it desperately needs, says the Coalition.
And that while prevention is number one in the EU waste hierarchy – before reducing resource extraction or designing circular products.
Although Chemical Recycling Europe, the voice of the chemical recyclers, can, in general, support the priorities formulated, the association takes issue with number nine, which reads:
Set the right legal framework for chemical recycling
Clear definitions and requirements are needed to ensure that chemical recycling does not undermine more circular approaches higher in the waste hierarchy or lead to adverse environmental impacts. The input should be limited to degraded and contaminated plastics, never plastics coming from a separate collection, and the output limited to new plastics, not fuel.
ChemRecEurope points out that, in the first place, chemical recycling is circular by definition. It ‘reflects the essence of what circularity is by enabling the direct replacement of virgin material’ by materials exhibiting identical quality and properties. The definition of chemical recycling explicitly excludes energy recovery.
The technology converts polymer waste into monomers, naphtha, syngas, waxes and more, which can serve as feedstock for the production of virgin-like new resins. As a result, chemical recycling can even enable the use of recycled content in food-grade applications.
Secondly, the association questions why chemical recycling should be restricted to contaminated and degraded plastics only. This would exclude, for example, the recycling of complex plastics that are also unable to be mechanically recycled.
“Opening broader plastic waste streams to chemical recycling would enable more plastics, that are currently not being recycled, to be recycled and would therefore complement current efforts made by mechanical recyclers,” the association argues.
Moreover, excluding separately collected plastics would make it impossible to recycle the rejects from mechanical recyclers, which represent a significant amount of plastic waste. In addition, the association notes, limiting the output to new plastics is far too restrictive: the output can also be used in the production of a variety of materials, which might bring more value than plastics, in addition to reducing the consumption of crude oil.
And, according to ChemicalRecEurope, restricting the input is inconsistent with the Prevent Waste Coalition’s tenth priority on phasing out waste incineration. If the rejects from mechanical recycling or the waste materials in a mechanically unrecyclable stream are not eligible for chemical recycling, these will automatically end up being sent to Energy-from-Waste.
Chemical recycling specifically targets the growing demand for virgin-quality recycled content that mechanical recycling is currently only able to achieve for PET and HDPE – and only for a few cycles under strict conditions, the association concluded.
“It targets a circular product and demand that currently cannot be fulfilled.”