In the latest proposals for a revised Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, the European Commission set out recycling targets for used packaging aimed at reducing packaging waste and promoting the use of recycled content in new packaging, including a stipulation urging that at least 50% of all plastic waste in the EU be recycled by 2025.
The EU chemical industry supports broad EU action to tackle waste and accelerate recycling and sees chemical recycling technologies developed by the industry as a viable option to contribute to achieving these targets. However, for chemical recycling to truly gain traction, the industry needs to invest more in chemical recycling facilities. These investments are being held up by the uncertainty surrounding the acceptance of the mass balance methodology to calculate the recycled content of plastics in products. And even now, in these latest proposals, the Commission has failed to provide clarity on the use of this method - a lapse that could well hamper the further progress of chemical recycling technologies.
The mass balance methodology is needed to allow for a smooth and rapid transition to leverage recycled feedstocks in existing infrastructure, together with the virgin fossil-sourced feedstock. As the two different feedstocks cannot be physically separated once they are co-fed into the crackers, the mass balance methodology is a way to accurately calculate and verify the amount of recycled content allocated to products.
It is important to be able to leverage existing infrastructure to allow co-feeding of the recycled feedstock, replacing part of the fossil-sourced feedstock. It would be counterproductive to build an entirely new stand-alone infrastructure for producing plastics solely from recycled waste.
Mass balance is a well-known “chain of custody” model, as defined in ISO standard 22095, already used in other sectors, such as biofuels, fairtrade cacao and coffee. Using this method will enable fossil-based virgin feedstock to be progressively replaced by feedstock based on recycled waste plastic in the production of resins and a broad range of chemicals and products in Europe.
“84% of all plastics produced annually in the EU does not find its way back into new products,” said Annick Meerschman, Cefic Innovation Director. She added that for the transition towards a sustainable circular economy, a rapid scale-up of both mechanical and chemical recycling technologies is essential.
However, she noted that since one of the main barriers to scaling up chemical recycling technologies is uncertainty about the method for calculating the recycled content of plastics, EU rules are needed.
“Rules to support chemical recycling as a complementary solution to mechanical recycling, to pull investments into this technology and help the EU meet targets for more recycled content. We also need a clear mass balance method as a key enabler of this process if we want to meet EU’s climate and circularity targets in time,” she warned.