ZWE study proves proportional allocation of recycled content in plastics best option

In a new study, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) assesses the consequences of different approaches to allocating recycled content in plastic.
(Source: Pixabay, Frank)

The study proves that proportional allocation has the lowest impact on the level-playing field and the largest potential environmental benefits.

Officially launched and presented during a Zero Waste Live! Webinar instalment, the “Impacts of allocation rules on chemical recycling – Consequences on the environment and maximum circularity of plastics” study calculated the impact of the different allocation rules regarding the environment, material circularity, and level-playing field in the recycling landscape.

Commissioned to CE Delft by ZWE and the Rethink Plastic Alliance, the study found that:

  • Proportional allocation leads to greater transparency in the plastic recycling market, as it reduces ambiguity about recycled content in plastic outputs.
  • A larger share of thermochemical technologies results in lower environmental benefits and reduced maximum recycling rates.
  • Proportional allocation reduces the risk of scenarios where long-loop chemical recycling dominates. In such a scenario, the CO2 benefits of plastics recycling could be up to 9 M tonnes lower than in a scenario with more mechanical recycling.
  • If the European Commission chooses polymers-only or fuel-exempt allocation, a cap on chemical recycling may be necessary to prevent it from outcompeting mechanical recycling. The study suggests that a cap of 12,5 to 25% on chemical recovery, as proposed in the Dutch Transition Agenda, could be a suitable option.

Lauriane Veillard, ZWE’s Chemical Recycling and Plastic-to-Fuel Policy Officer, says: “Using the mass-balance chain of custody for recycled content claims must always be a last resort and based on proportional allocation. Otherwise, these claims will promote greenwashing, and undermine the circular economy and climate agenda. Chemical recovery technologies, i.e. pyrolysis and gasification, should be limited to the bare minimum to avoid a lock-in effect similar to incineration”.

ZWE urges the European Commission to consider the study’s findings on allocation rules and recycled content targets for plastics in their upcoming files:

  • Use ‘batch level’ mass balance to determine recycled content so that it is clear how much recycled material is in the final product.
  • Use proportional allocation to evenly allocate the recycled content to output products when using mass balance (instead of allocating it arbitrarily).
  • Use ‘batch level’ mass balance to determine recycled content so that it is clear how much recycled material is in the final product.
  • Consider capping chemical recovery to avoid it overtaking mechanical recycling if polymers-only or fuel-exempt models are used.
  • Implement regulation to ensure that mechanical remains the primary recycling option for maximum CO2 reduction and circularity score.

Download the study


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