Consumer Goods Forum outlines criteria for effective chemical recycling in industry study
19 Apr 2022 --- The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) has published an independent scientific study that demonstrates the chemical recycling of hard-to-recycle plastic waste could reduce plastic’s climate impact when compared to waste-to-energy incineration.
The CGF’s Coalition of Action on Plastic Waste and 16 member companies co-authored a paper that outlines a set of principles for the credible, safe and environmentally sound development of the chemical recycling industry.
Titled “Chemical Recycling in a Circular Economy for Plastics: A Vision and Principles Paper,” the paper encourages the development of new plastics recycling technologies that meet six key principles for credible, safe and environmentally sound development.
Ignacio Gavilan, sustainability director for CGF, says: “There are many components needed to achieve a more positive future for plastic. Our focus must be to reduce dependency on plastics and improve packaging design, curbing the use of problematic materials and excess packaging. But where plastic packaging cannot be eliminated, reused or recycled using other methods, chemical recycling has a role within the circular economy.”
“Chemical recycling takes plastics that can’t be mechanically recycled and transforms them into materials that can be used to make new plastics. Used in the right way as part of a holistic approach, chemical recycling can contribute to a world where no plastic ends up in nature.”
The paper assesses key criteria by which chemical recycling can be developed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) effectively. These are:
- Implementing robust systems and processes to ensure that waste plastic input materials for chemical recycling do not include material that can be economically recycled by mechanical recycling in practice and at scale.
- Material traceability: Avoiding deliberate or accidental “double counting” of waste plastics.
- Process yield: Set a minimum threshold for the end-to-end yield (plastic waste to recycled materials or chemicals), using a consistent definition and methodology.
- Lifecycle environmental impact: Demonstrate that GHG emissions associated with the production of chemically recycled plastic are lower compared to fossil fuel-based virgin plastics.
- Health and safety: Maintain continued high attention to the health and safety of the chemical recycling process.
- Claims: Claims about chemical recycling made by companies purchasing plastics produced by chemical recycling are communicated credibly and transparently to support consumer decision-making.
Co-author companies of the paper include Amcor, Mars, Henkel, Unilever, Tetra Pak and Nestlé.
Colin Kerr, packaging director for Unilever, says: “As we continue to reduce the use of virgin plastic, new technologies such as chemical recycling can help drive up recycling rates and increase the availability of food-grade recycled materials. The principles and Life Cycle Assessment work from the CGF is key to ensuring this can happen in a safe and environmentally sound way.”
Chemical recycling on the rise
CGF’s paper comes shortly after WWF announced its position on advanced recycling, labeling it “an emerging technology with unknown environmental and social outcomes.”
Last year, PackagingInsights spoke to an expert at Rabobank, who said advanced recycling continued to flourish in 2021, despite criticism from NGOs and media reports challenging these technologies’ cost-effectiveness and environmental performance.
The number of advanced recycling plants is estimated to more than double by 2025, with at least 220 tracked by Rabobank.
By Louis Gore-Langton
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