Consumer Goods Forum looks at new plastic recycling technologies

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Plastic Waste Action Coalition has published “Chemical recycling in a circular economy for plastics“, a document that encourages the development of new plastics recycling technologies that meet six key principles for credible, safe and environmentally responsible development. In support of this position paper, the coalition has also published an independent life cycle analysis (LCA) study which shows that chemical recycling of hard-to-recycle plastic could reduce the climate impact of plastic compared to incinerating waste into energy.

Guided by global engagement led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and in line with the recently announced UN plastic pollution treaty, the coalition says it is committed to growing the circular economy, having launched its full set of Golden Design Rules for plastic packaging and the development of a framework for extended producer responsibility (REP). The coalition says it is also working to encourage innovation in recycling, including chemical recycling to complement growing mechanical recycling capacity.

In the area of ​​chemical recycling, the coalition claims to have established a set of principles for the safe scale-up of pyrolysis-based chemical recycling. According to the article she published, chemical recycling could increase packaging recycling rates, helping to meet recyclability goals, especially for hard-to-recycle plastics, such as post-consumer flexible film. To ensure that chemical recycling is developed and operated under “credible, safe and environmentally responsible conditions”, the document outlines what the coalition says are six key principles related to the technology’s complementarity with mechanical recycling. , material traceability, process yields and environmental impact, health and safety and claims.

CGF members say they value feedback and engagement on this study and its broader work within the Plastic Waste Coalition of Action.

Barry Parkin, Director of Sustainability at Mars Inc., says, “Chemical recycling is an essential complement to mechanical recycling as it will enable large quantities of flexible packaging to be recycled into food grade packaging. This study demonstrates that chemical recycling has a carbon footprint that the current end of life of flexible packaging.”

“As we continue to reduce the use of virgin plastic, new technologies such as chemical recycling can help increase recycling rates and increase the availability of food-grade recycled materials,” adds Colin Kerr, director of the packaging at Unilever. “The Consumer Goods Forum’s Principles and Life Cycle Assessment work is key to ensuring this can happen in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”

Llorenç Milà i Canals, Head of the Life Cycle Initiative Secretariat, United Nations Environment Programme, says, “It is crucial to consider all potential environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of production and consumption systems when evaluating technologies such as chemical recycling of plastics. A specific challenge with relatively new technologies is to include the chemical composition of discharges, emissions and wastes from facilities, as well as the need for additional pollution control and management equipment, and these should be part of the assessment. Lifecycle is the standardized tool to do just that, ensuring the necessary review by experts and interested parties; the Consumer Goods Forum has launched a very useful process to shed light on many of these aspects in this report.

“Acknowledging that reducing and reusing packaging must be a priority, and acknowledging the limitations of the technology, the paper highlights the industry position on the role that CR pyrolysis could play in the transition to a circular economy for plastics. and what key principles and boundary conditions it must comply with,” adds Sander Defruyt, New Plastics Economy Lead, Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The coalition ordered in Chicago Sphere carry out an independent study on the theme of the impact of climate change. The study was peer-reviewed throughout the process by a panel of experts from the United Nations Environment Programme, Northwestern University and Eunomia. The study provides a life cycle impact assessment and compares conventional plastics produced from fossil fuels and incinerated at end of life with chemically recycled plastic in a circular system.

The results of the study demonstrate that chemical recycling of hard-to-recycle mixed plastic waste could reduce the climate impact of plastic compared to incinerating waste into energy. Specifically, the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of flexible consumer packaging made from post-use plastic via chemical recycling by pyrolysis and recycled at end of life are 43% lower than those of plastic films. made from fossil fuels and disposed of by incineration at end of life.

Additional details on the LCA findings are available in the Technical report and the Non-technical summary.

However, some non-governmental organizations have expressed skepticism on chemical recycling, including GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives), Berkeley, California, particularly when the technology is used to produce fuels. The organization says these technologies are “falsely marketed as circular, climate-friendly and sustainable” and have “environmental and health disadvantages” that “outweigh the supposed benefits” because they partly produce low-quality fuels, exacerbate climate change, produce toxic air emissions and by-products, and perpetuate the overproduction of plastic.

GAIA refers to chemical recycling as “an industrial masquerade term used to refer to various plastic-to-fuel and plastic-to-plastic technologies”, adding: “While these processes aim to transform plastic into liquids or gases that could be used to make new plastic, the end products are usually burned in practice. Technological variants of this process include pyrolysis, solvolysis and depolymerization. However, regardless of the label, the technology is plastic-to-fuel, i.e. the incineration of plastic, if the end products are burned. »


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