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Big jump in chemical recycling investment

A study of the global chemical recycling industry has shown a dramatic increase in the number of plants being developed.

According to the German consultancy ecoprog, more than 90 projects for chemical recycling of plastics were in various stages of development worldwide at the end of 2021. Currently, only 20 more are in operation, few of which can be considered final commercial plants. Ecoprog, which specialises in in environmental and energy technology, notes in a new report that few topics in the waste management sector polarise opinion as strongly as chemical recycling.

‘For supporters, chemical recycling offers the opportunity to fully recycle plastics in the future without downcycling,’ it says in a press release. ‘In addition, contaminated and mixed waste streams that currently cannot be recycled mechanically should also be possible to be recycled through chemical recycling. Critics, on the other hand, mainly criticise the high CO2 emissions from chemical recycling. They fear that waste streams are being diverted from a more climate-friendly mechanical recycling process in order to be treated in this way.’

The report says the most important driver of the current dynamic market development is the potential of chemical recycling in plastics production, combined with possible recyclable quotas. Those pioneering the technology hope it will be recognised positively in the waste hierarchy although there remain concerns about high energy consumption and uncertain technical issues, particularly the purification of the output from depolymerisation.

‘Nevertheless, chemical recycling is a potential key technology in the future production of plastics, which may account for large market shares in the coming years,’ says ecoprog. ‘It therefore primarily affects the business model of the chemical industry and the mineral oil industry which produce plastics or provide the raw material for them derived from crude oil.’

Consequently, it adds, the companies that are particularly active in chemical recycling also come from these industries. In addition, the technology appeals to waste management companies that provide the relevant material streams.

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