Can Chemical Recycling Transform Plastic Waste Management?

Can Chemical Recycling Transform the Plastic Waste Management?
Can Chemical Recycling Transform the Plastic Waste Management?

The Consultant Sphera was commissioned by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) to conduct a Life-Cycle Analysis on pyrolysis and related chemical recycling technologies

The analysis will be conducted on pyrolysis and related chemical recycling technologies of post-consumer mixed plastic waste to evaluate the potential environmental impacts regarding climate change and fossil resource use of circular food-grade plastics-to-plastics systems compared to fossil-based ones.

You can also read: Interest Grows in Chemical Recycling

Chemical Recycling: An Overview

Chemical recycling represents a paradigm shift in managing plastic waste. Unlike traditional methods, it breaks down plastics to their molecular components, offering a chance to circumvent quality degradation associated with mechanical recycling. This process, particularly pyrolysis, transforms MPW into high-grade recyclable material, promising a significant step towards sustainable, circular economies.

Study Objectives and Methodology

In the face of growing environmental challenges, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) commissioned the study, “Life-Cycle Assessment of Chemical Recycling for Food Grade Film.” This research offers a comprehensive analysis of chemical recycling technologies, focusing on pyrolysis for post-consumer mixed plastic waste (MPW). It positions itself at the forefront of exploring sustainable recycling methods for the packaging industry.

The study aims to compare the environmental impacts of circular, chemically recycled plastics-to-plastics systems against conventional, linear fossil-based systems. It meticulously evaluates the entire value chain, from waste collection to end-of-life treatment. The assessment uses life-cycle analysis (LCA) to quantify impacts like greenhouse gas emissions and fossil resource consumption.


Environmental Impact of Pyrolysis-Based Recycling The study reveals that chemical recycling via pyrolysis has the potential to reduce environmental impacts significantly. When compared to traditional fossil-based systems, this method shows a marked decrease in climate change potential. Key to this is the efficient conversion of MPW into food-grade quality films, which are crucial in packaging applications.

Climate change assessment results from the LCA analysis.

Climate change assessment results from the LCA analysis.

The research explores various scenarios, factoring in current and future electricity grid mixes and production efficiencies. It finds that the environmental benefits of chemical recycling amplify with the use of renewable energy sources and technological advancements in the process. This highlights the importance of continuous innovation and integration with renewable energy for optimal sustainability.

One of the main conclusions from the study is that in the case where residual waste is disposed only through waste-to-energy incineration, the LCA shows that pyrolysis-based chemical recycling (Py-CR) for hard-to-recycle plastic packaging waste would reduce overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite its promise, chemical recycling faces challenges. The high cost of advanced technologies and the necessity for significant infrastructure development are primary concerns. However, these are offset by the long-term environmental and economic benefits, presenting an opportunity for industries and policymakers to invest in sustainable recycling technologies.

Industry and Policy Implications

The CGF’s study serves as a guide for industry stakeholders. It underscores the necessity for investment in chemical recycling technologies, not just as an environmental imperative but as a strategic business decision. The findings advocate for policy support to foster a conducive environment for such technologies, emphasizing public-private partnerships and regulatory frameworks that encourage sustainable practices.

The life-cycle assessment of chemical recycling for food-grade film notably advances our understanding of sustainable plastic practices. Amidst the global fight against plastic pollution and climate change, the study delves into chemical recycling’s transformative potential. It advocates for unified efforts from industry leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders to adopt these technologies, thereby intertwining sustainability with business success

By Juliana Montoya | February 17, 2024

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