What is plastic recycler

Chemical recycling of plastics

Due to the considerable energetic and technical expenditure, chemical recycling, in particular the gasification process, requires large amounts of plastic waste in order to be able to work economically. This contradicts the proponents of chemical recycling that the process should only be used in the niche of non-recyclable plastics. A competition with mechanical recycling cannot therefore be ruled out and is not desired due to the poorer environmental balance.

“Plastic-to-plastic” recycling requires more processing stages than “plastic-to-gas” processes. Therefore there is concern that pyrolysis plants could only concentrate on the production of (very energy-intensive) fuels for reasons of profitability. The plastic would not be circulated, but would ultimately be burned.

There is a risk that chemical recycling will undermine the circular and decarbonising agenda in the EU. Because "chemical recycling" means that new fossil raw materials are still needed to manufacture plastics. This can weaken the ambitions for the search for sustainable alternatives and for the reduction of non-recyclable plastics. In the long term, the demand for plastics must be covered by recyclates and bio-based, non-fossil raw materials. “Plastic-to-fuel” systems can only process fossil-based plastics.

The research and further development of chemical recycling processes ties up considerable financial and intellectual capacities which, according to the current state of knowledge, could be used more sensibly in other areas of application. However, the chemical industry would have to change its current business model, which is based on more and more fossil raw materials, and focus much more on the recycling-friendly design of its plastics.

6. What political framework does NABU call for chemical recycling?

A good political framework is required so that chemical recycling can also display its ecological advantages when plastic cycles are closed where material processes fail. Chemical recycling needs to be embedded in general efforts to avoid plastics and better recycling-friendly design. Where there is no legal framework, there could be gateways for unwanted chemical recycling processes. For example, where plastics are converted into fuels or the ecological side effects of the recycling process are more serious than the recycling yield.

NABU demands that

  1. the EU includes a legal definition of chemical recycling in waste legislation. This must exclude all treatments in which plastics do not become plastics again. In addition, chemical recycling may only be used for waste that cannot currently and will not be mechanically recycled in the future. NABU follows the formulation proposals of the international NGO Zero Waste Europe: "Chemical recycling means any recovery operation by which waste materials that are unfit to be mechanically recycled are reprocessed into building blocks of a material of higher quality than the waste input."
  2. an additional step in the waste hierarchy is introduced, which comes after material recycling and before incineration. This only applies to the fractions that are mixed and would otherwise be incinerated. According to Art 3.17 (WFD, 2008/98 / EC - EU Waste Framework Directive) it should be made clear that chemical recycling is only suitable in cases in which plastics are too decomposed, too complex and / or too polluted to be recycled become.
  3. Before approving chemical recycling facilities, specifications must be made in accordance with ISO-compliant life cycle assessments. This is the only way to ensure that the technologies can be evaluated according to various ecological criteria such as CO2 savings or resource conservation. Not only should current climate effects be measured, but also climate effects in the context of a future decarbonised economy.
  4. Possible state subsidies for chemical recycling technology must always be in line with the EU's climate and circular economy policy and only apply to projects that produce plastics again as the end product of the chemical process. In addition, the funding focus should generally be placed more on mechanical recycling.