Chemical Recycling Europe says its processes will close loops

Association says chemical recycling can “upcycle” plastics beyond those used most commonly in packaging applications.

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June 23, 2020

Brussels-based association Chemical Recycling Europe says processes used by its members are distinct from energy recovery, and instead should be viewed as “upcycling” and as keeping polymers in a closed loop.

The association issued the statements in response to Priority 9 in a list that was recently developed by “various European Union non-governmental organizations and associations.” Chemical Recycling Europe says it largely supports the list of 10 priorities, but contends the chemical recycling methods of its members should be more clearly identified for their ability “to close the material loop by converting plastic [scrap] currently not recycled into high-quality products.”

Continues the group, “These recycling techniques (sometimes described as upcycling or advanced recycling) reflect the essence of what circularity is by enabling the direct replacement of virgin material with its identical quality and properties. They, for instance, enable the inclusion of recycled content in food-grade applications. These various technologies convert polymeric [scrap] in different value-added materials like monomers, naphtha, syngas and waxes.”

Chemical Recycling Europe, which represents seven member companies with chemical recycling processes in place or planned, says chemical recycling “takes on a clear circular approach as the definition of chemical recycling excludes energy recovery.” The group continues, “Chemical recycling is defined as any reprocessing technology that directly affects either the formulation of the polymeric [scrap] or the polymer itself and converts them into chemical substances and/or products whether for the original or other purposes, excluding energy recovery.”

The association, in a June 22 news release, says the input units of chemical recycling may hold less value compared to the typical inputs of mechanical recycling currently. “We, however, fail to see the reason for restricting chemical recycling to contaminated and degraded plastics. Some plastics are more complex and some do not represent a stream economically viable for mechanical recyclers, and therefore this restriction prevents the possibility for these plastics to be recycled. Opening broader [discarded] plastic 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 group adds that restricting input origins for chemical recycling plant operators to commingled streams only “would mean that chemical recycling would not be able to capture the rejects from mechanical recyclers, which represent a significant amount of plastic [scrap]. In addition, mechanical recycling is also not able to recycle some separate collected streams, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Therefore, we ask what the best recycling alternative would be for those separate collected [plastic scrap] streams other than chemical recycling?”