Chemical recycling technologies are fast-emerging, with a potential to augment Europe’s progress towards sustainable plastic waste management. These processes complement those of mechanical recycling, where the latter proves to be inefficient, as is the case for difficult to recycle or non-recycled plastics such as multi-layers, heavily contaminated waste, or mechanical recycling residues.
Effective uptake of the different technologies and their placement in the waste hierarchy depends on the harmonised understanding of what is defined as chemical recycling.
The term describes technologies which reduce waste to monomers, oligomers and higher hydrocarbons polymeric by chemical reactions, to produce chemicals such as virgin-like polymers to create new plastic articles. These processes are to be distinguished from physical recycling (mechanical recycling and dissolution technologies). Where the end-product of a chemical process is naphtha or pyrolysis oils, the process itself is considered a recovery operation rather than recycling.