Chemical recycling of plastic may be key to meeting ambitious EU recycling targets
  

 
Townsend’s take:  The EU edict requiring 55% of plastics to be recycled by 2030 is viewed as challenging if all this volume was to be material-recycled and processed into packaging and other products with recycled content. There is a question mark as to whether food packaging and indeed other packaging could absorb such a high proportion of recycled material and still function adequately in terms of performance. Cost-effective chemical recycling processes that would in effect recycle plastics into virgin materials might prove a key in meeting the EU target.
  

  
Finnish renewable diesel manufacturer Neste is exploring ways to introduce liquefied waste plastic as a future raw material for fossil fuel refining and petrochemical feedstocks, meaning ultimately part of the plastic thus processed will be reborn as new virgin plastic. The aim of the development project is to proceed to industrial scale trial during 2019. The company’s target is to process annually more than one million tons of waste plastic by 2030.

 “With our strong legacy in raw material and pre-treatment research, we are in a unique position to introduce waste plastics as a new raw material for fossil fuel refining. At the same time, we aim to provide solutions to support global plastic waste reduction,” says Matti Lehmus, Executive Vice President of Neste’s Oil Products business area.

In Europe, some 27 million tons of post-consumer plastic waste is generated annually. Only about one-third of this amount is currently collected for recycling.

In January 2018, the European Union released its Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. One of its objectives is to increase recycling of plastics and reuse of plastic packaging by 2030. In the EU Waste package, recycling target for plastic packaging was raised to 50% by 2025 and 55% by 2030.
“In order to reach the ambitious EU plastics recycling targets, both chemical and mechanical recycling need to be recognized in the EU regulation,” Matti Lehmus says.

Chemical recycling means using waste plastics as raw material for the refining and petrochemical industries to convert them into end products such as fuels, chemicals, and new plastics. Chemical recycling can create new outlets for plastic waste by enabling high end product qualities, thereby complementing traditional mechanical recycling.

Reaching industrial-scale production of products from plastic waste still requires development of technologies and value chains. To accelerate development, Neste is looking for partners across the value chain, for example in waste management and upgrading technologies.

“Circular economy is built upon joint efforts,” says Matti Lehmus. “We wish to partner with leading companies throughout the value chain, who share our sustainability values and ambition, and are ready to move forward with us.”
  
  
Townsend’s take: The EU edict requiring 55% of plastics to be recycled by 2030 is viewed as challenging if all this volume was to be material-recycled and processed into packaging and other products with recycled content. There is a question mark as to whether food packaging and indeed other packaging could absorb such a high proportion of recycled material and still function adequately in terms of performance. Cost-effective chemical recycling processes that would in effect recycle plastics into virgin materials might prove a key in meeting the EU target.
  
  
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