Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) can see chemical recycling processes as the new “plastics El Dorado” that offer a complementary solution to mechanical recycling.
A study published by the Brussels-based organisation last week noted that plastic “cannot be endlessly mechanically recycled” without reducing its properties and quality, and that not all plastic types can be mechanically recycled.
“These limits set challenges for plastics recycling and show the need for significant improvements in the end-of-life management of plastics,” the study added.
Chemical Recycling, said ZWE, could be a complementary solution to mechanical recycling “where the latter is unsuited to materially recover plastic because it is too degraded, contaminated or too complex.”
The report also emphasised the importance of setting up “the right policy framework” in order to accommodate for chemical recycling and to ensure that “carbon stays in the plastic and is not released into the environment.”
In its recommendations for policy makers, ZWE suggested that the current waste legislation should be amended to come up with a clear definition of chemical recycling that excludes any operation that does not result in the production of new plastic.
Additionally, the organisation suggested that only processes with a lower carbon footprint than the production of plastic from virgin feedstock should be classified as chemical recycling.
The process, said ZWE, should be used to deal with degraded and contaminated plastics and never with plastics coming from separate collection.
In addition, the organisation stated that verification systems should be established to ensure that facilities licensed for chemical recycling do not produce fuel as primary output.
ZWE also suggested a new differentiated recovery system should be developed for the waste destined for chemical recycling in order to avoid competition with mechanical recycling.
For coherence with EU climate and circular economy agendas, the organisation suggested that EU funding should only be allowed to finance plastic-to-plastic chemical operations.
ZWE concluded that the recycling process should not “divert attention from the real solution to plastic pollution,” which it said was replacing single-use plastics, detoxifying and simplifying new plastics, and designing business models to make efficient use of plastics.