Chemical Recycling - The missing Piece to Plastics Circularity Event Summary

On February 20, 2019, MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz hosted a policy briefing on the topic of chemical recycling. More than 50 stakeholders, among them European policy makers from the European Parliament, the European Commission, civil society and the industry came together to learn and discuss the potential of chemical recycling as a complementary solution to mechanical recycling and a circular plastics economy.

Below is a summary of the key statements and questions under discussion, along with links to the event's presentations.

We thank all of our participants and speakers for their valuable contributions as well as BASF for kindly sponsoring the event.

We are looking forward to continuing the discussion with you!

Karl-Heinz Florenz, MEP

“The European Parliament and the Commission have taken important steps towards plastics sustainability and proper waste management of plastics. Legislative acts like the Single Use Plastics Directive require a strong follow-up by the European Commission on proper implementation.”

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

“Innovation needs to happen all along the value chain to meet the 2030 objective of having all plastic packaging in the EU either reusable or recyclable.”

“The recently launched Circular Plastics Alliance will be a critical platform to meet the current gap between supply and demand.”

“The Commission is eager to learn more about chemical recycling.”

“Reliable Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data is needed on energy demand, CO2 balance and other potential environmental impacts. Also, questions on hazardous substances need to be answered.”

“The definition of recycling is technology neutral. Recycling processes which lead to the generation of new materials can contribute to the fulfillment of the European recycling targets. Reprocessing waste into fuel, however, cannot be counted as recycling.”

“We expect an increasing demand for recycled plastic when good quality feed-stock will become available in stable quantities and at competitive prices.”

Michaël Mansuy, Director Waste Solutions and Public Affairs, VEOLIA

“While Europe has the highest plastics recycling rate of about 30 %, improvements are possible on a worldwide scale.”

“Veolia is interested in chemical recycling, which is viewed as complementary approach to the company´s core business with mechanical recycling.”

“The established mechanical recycling is suitable for waste with good and medium quality. However, for lower quality waste where current processes run into issues with smell or quality, chemical recycling would be a recycling solution.”

“It delivers the possibility to produce food grade quality for packaging which mechanical recycling cannot always deliver.”

“Chemically recycled material would also allow the use of recycled content in food contact on a larger scale.”

“We need measures that increase the demand in recycled material, like the recycled content requirement postulated in the Single Use Plastics Directive. There also needs to be harmonisation of how the reuse of recycled feed-stock is being calculated.”

Stefan Gräter, Head of ChemCycling, BASF

“BASF has started the 'ChemCycling' project to develop a recycling solution for waste which is currently incinerated or land-filled.”

“Chemical recycling converts plastic-containing waste into oil and gaseous feed-stock that is used by the chemical industry to produce new materials.”

“The approach is complementary to the established mechanical recycling technologies. The objective is to find recycling solutions for the waste which is not suitable input for mechanical recycling.”

“Value chain cooperation is key of the ChemCycling project. We work together with waste operators for the waste supply, technology providers for conversion of plastic waste into new feed-stock, and the downstream users who ultimately use the recycled material.”

“We have now for the first time fed waste-based feed-stock into our production.”

“In the beginning, waste-based feedstock will only be available in small quantities and be strongly diluted with conventional feed-stock in large chemical sites. Hence, the recycled content of an end product has to be allocated. The approach is similar to green electricity, where electricity from renewable and conventional sources is supplied to the grid and allocated to customers.”

“BASF has established a third-party verified approach for the calculation of allocated recycled content.”

Geert Bergsma, Manager Supply Chain Analysis, CE Delft

“We have conducted a study for the Dutch Government about the contributions of chemical recycling to climate policy, based on process data from pilot plant operators."

“We looked at four different ways of chemical recycling and their potential to recycle waste streams which are currently not fed into high quality recycling. The different technologies offer different trade-offs.”

"For the sorting rest of mechanical recycling processes, chemical recycling would save in the order of 1.5 t CO2 equivalent per ton of input waste compared to incineration. The CO2 balance for chemical recycling of PET trays is even better.”

“For mixed plastics, the CO2 balance of the chemical processes was slightly better but in the same range as the mechanical process, but still better than incineration.”

“In total, the study concluded that chemical recycling could contribute up to 1.7 Mt of CO2 reduction potential in the Netherlands in 2030.”

"It would help if European EPR systems and policies for recycling would integrate chemical recycling as an form or recycling."

"A discussion is need about the question if all chemical recycling has to been counted as equal. CE Delft thinks two categories could make policies smarter."

“We consider chemical recycling as an interesting addition to mechanical recycling. Especially the possibility to use the material for food packaging again is an interesting asset."

Q&A session

Q: “What about the efficiency of the chemical recycling process, fate of hazardous substances in chemical recycling, and process emissions?”

"A: “Chemical recycling will remove impurities and hazardous substances from the material cycle. This is one of the reasons why chemical recycling can be used to recycle waste which is not suitable for mechanical recycling where the impurities would remain in the recycled material. Medical waste would be one example.”

“The formation and amount of by-products will depend on the waste input: Pure polyolefin waste would be completely converted at an efficiency of 70-90 % (BASF). Undesired organic substances will be destroyed in the process. Inorganic impurities, e. g. heavy metals, will form an ash by-product, as they would in waste incineration. Halogens will have to be removed, either before or after the recycling step (e. g. precipitation of chlorine with lime).”

Q: “What about the water use?”

A: “Water use is actually less than for mechanical recycling, as no washing step is required.”

Q: “Are there data available for a proper assessment of the product life cycle, the CO2 and energy balance beyond that study presented by CE Delft? Could LCA studies be made available to the public?”

A: “LCA assessment of chemical recycling processes is a key part of the companies’ activities. The waste feed-stock as well as the technology used are decisive for an LCA, so the encouraging first results from CE Delft have to be further developed and verified as technology develops. BASF is willing to share data with authorities and is also looking for ways to make the information available to the public.”

Q: “What about the choice of reference scenarios in LCA assessments?"

A: “All currently realistic scenarios should be considered. There is general agreement that chemical recycling should not be used as an alternative to waste reduction, reuse, or to efforts to make plastics more recyclable with existing processes.”

Q: “Is industry asking for CO2 credits and would a CO2 credit be effective to stimulate chemical recycling?”

A: “There is no request from industry side for CO2 credits. Effectiveness of credits would depend on the tariff. It could work for higher tariffs of 50-100 € per tonne."

"If ETS prices stayed much lower, extra support for recycling through EPR or recycled content targets would be necessary. But it would also depend on how incineration is treated in the ETS system. Currently, waste incineration does not pay for ETS rights.”

Q: “What regulatory framework is needed?”

A: “A supportive regulatory framework should define recycling in a technology-neutral way, to enable the development of new technologies in addition to existing ones. This is already realized at European level, but not in all member states.”

Q: “Is chemical recycling an option to recycle plastic waste from the ocean?”

A: “It is possible but quite a high amount of water would be needed to wash off the salt. Also for incineration washing is needed which also tries to keep out chlorine. The 'Ocean Cleanup' initiative supported by CE Delft is investigating this route."

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