The report provides a comprehensive view of the current status of chemical recycling of commodity polymers, market drivers, growth dynamics as well as a forecast for future development.
The amount of plastic waste in the environment has become a major concern for both regulators and the general public. There has been a huge drive towards sustainability and the ‘circular economy’ in recent years. Legislative measures are being introduced to curb the plastic waste production and to include more recycled content into everyday products, with Europe leading the way. Significant volumes of waste had been exported to China, until in 2018 China introduced its National Sword policy, which effectively banned the import of plastic waste, leaving many nations without a destination for their plastic waste. In addition, many brands are proactively looking to include more recycled content on their packaging.
Recycling technologies currently in operation, largely based on mechanical recycling, are not suited to processing a significant portion of post-consumer waste. Emerging chemical recycling technologies are, however, capable of addressing this fraction.
AMI Consulting estimates, that global plastic post-consumer waste volumes were 215m tonnes in 2019, of which just over 10% was recycled. Chemical recycling of plastics is a promising approach to meet the recycling targets, and to introduce a circular economic model to plastics manufacturing. With chemical recycling, the plastic material can be turned back into a polymeric feedstock. Chemical recycling enables the recycling of plastic materials that cannot currently be mechanically recycled, including contaminated, multi-layer and mixed plastics. Compared with landfilling, chemical recycling is the superior environmental option. There is undoubtedly a space in the waste hierarchy for chemical recycling to occupy.
Chemical recycling operations are now being developed across the world. Most are currently either laboratory or pilot scale, although a number of industrial scale facilities will come on stream in the next few years. AMI Consulting has grouped chemical recycling operations into four technologies: depolymerisation, dissolution (solvent-based purification), gasification and pyrolysis. Recycling based on dissolution is technically a physical process as the polymer chain remains intact throughout.
A number of companies are investigating each technology. Major projects are already underway in Europe and North America, and going forward, Asia is also expected to gain a substantial market share, with developments tending to be a few years behind Europe and North America. With such momentum, chemical recycling will establish itself as a significant technology by 2030.