Europe – Plastics recycling in Europe faces a significant challenge, as recent research conducted by the Joint Research Center (JRC) of the European Commission, along with the Universities of Ghent and Maastricht, reveals that only a small fraction of plastics are currently being recycled.
The study emphasizes the urgent need to advance chemical recycling methods to significantly increase the recycling rate.
According to the researchers’ calculations, the percentage of plastics that can be recycled has the potential to reach 80 percent by 2030, a substantial increase from the current rate of approximately 18 percent. Recognizing this opportunity, numerous companies in the chemical industry are actively engaged in developing technologies and projects for the chemical recycling of plastics.
While technology is not the primary obstacle, scaling up these recycling technologies and projects requires a clear framework for calculating the percentage of recycled plastic in products. The European trade association for the chemical industry, Cefic, highlights the importance of adopting the “mass balance method.” This method, already successfully applied in industries like fair trade cocoa and coffee, offers a viable approach for quantifying the recycled content of plastic products.
The mass balance method enables tracking the flow of recycled materials throughout the production process. It ensures that the environmental benefits of chemical recycling can be accurately measured and certified. By implementing this method, stakeholders can provide consumers and businesses with transparent information about the actual recycled content of plastic products, facilitating informed purchasing decisions and encouraging the demand for recycled plastics.
However, challenges remain on the path to achieving widespread adoption of chemical recycling and increasing the overall recycling rate of plastics. These challenges include establishing effective collection and sorting systems, addressing the complexity of multi-layered plastics, and ensuring the availability of feedstock for recycling processes.
Chemical recycling potential
The European Commission, national governments, and industry stakeholders must collaborate to create a supportive regulatory framework and invest in infrastructure for the successful implementation of chemical recycling. Furthermore, public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives can play a vital role in promoting responsible plastic consumption and fostering a circular economy mindset.
Unlocking the potential of chemical recycling holds immense promise for Europe’s plastic waste management. By substantially increasing the recycling rate, Europe can significantly reduce its environmental footprint, decrease dependency on virgin plastics, and contribute to a more sustainable future.