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ZWE: ‘Prioritise mechanical recycling’

New research suggests that mechanical recycling of plastics generates only one-ninth the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of chemical recycling, notably pyrolysis.

With the growing emphasis on using recycled plastics, Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) uses the findings of a commissioned study to urge the European Commission (EC) to introduce legal safeguards to prioritise mechanical recycling.  

The ZWE study is based on the estimated future recycling content targets in plastic packaging. Consultancy Eunomia was tasked by the EC to consider the possible introduction of recycled content targets for plastic packaging by 2030.

Based on the Eunomia conclusions, the new study calculated that pyrolysis GHG emissions are nine times higher than those in mechanical recycling and over half of the carbon content of plastic is lost in the pyrolysis process and has to be replaced by new plastic.

ZWE, a federation of ngos across Europe, urges the EC to:

  • Introduce legal safeguards to prioritise mechanical recycling over pyrolysis
  • Consider the climate impact of different recycling technologies when settings targets for recycled content
  • Incentivise measures such as design for recycling and innovations along the plastic packaging value chain to facilitate mechanical recycling.

ZWE policy officer Lauriane Veillard says: ‘If we are serious about achieving net-zero emission economy, mechanical recycling must be preferred over pyrolysis. However, this cannot be achieved unless legal safeguards as part of the [EU packaging directive] revision are introduced to prioritise mechanical processes for recycling packaging waste complemented with ambitious prevention and reuse targets.’

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