A group of 31 associations from major market sectors along the European plastics value chain have joined together on the issue of chemical recycling. They have published a joint letter calling on the European Commission and Member States to adopt EU harmonised calculating rules for recycled content by means of mass balance in 2023.
Emphasising that mechanical recycling should remain the preferred choice, the associations say that more investments in all technologies - including chemical recycling which allows for the use of hitherto ‘unrecyclable’ plastic waste not suitable for mechanical recycling.
In this ‘cross sectoral statement on the policy framework needed to deliver recycled content in key plastics applications’, the associations state that, to move towards a circular economy, more investments in climate-neutral production and supply chains are needed, as well as measures to prevent waste generation, promote the reuse plastics and the rapid scale-up of mechanical, organic and chemical recycling.
“While mechanical recycling has benefits in terms of cost, environmental performance and recycling yields and should remain the preferred choice, more investments in all technologies are needed to increase recycling,” the associations write. “Chemical recycling allows the use of plastic waste, especially feedstock not suitable for mechanical recycling, to produce new chemicals including plastics.”
For this to succeed and be available at scale, EU-harmonised rules for calculating chemically recycled content are urgently needed to intensify investments in these technologies.
“Frequently, recycled feedstocks are blended with virgin feedstocks and the two different feedstocks cannot be physically separated once they are co-fed into the complex large-scale installations. Therefore, we recommend a mass balance chain of custody to enable the successful commercialisation and promotion of recycled content from technologies where it is needed,” say the associations.
They are therefore calling on the European Commission to adopt an EU-harmonised calculation and verification method in the form of a mass balance chain of custody to calculate chemically recycled content in plastics. Mass balance offers a transparent and auditable method to trace a defined material characteristic along the value chain from material suppliers to consumers. It would also need to stipulate how to allocate the recycled content to the output products.
The associations advocate a fuel-use exempt model that would provide for a robust system to reach the recycling levels expected by the market and required by EU legislation in a timely manner, so as to drive circularity to the next level. To ensure credibility throughout the whole value chain, third-party verification and certification of the calculation method will be necessary.
The associations point to the rules currently being developed for the Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) implementing act, which will have a crucial impact on mechanical and chemical recycling investments in Europe. To meet the targets set for 2030 and 2040, amongst others in the recently proposed Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, will require commercial-size investments in chemical recycling investments immediately.
“It is therefore key that policymakers set a precedent as to when and how a mass balance chain of custody in recycled plastics will be applied in the EU sooner rather than later. This precedent should also set the direction of policy in non-packaging sectors such as automotive or construction, where recycled plastics targets are currently under discussion or may arise in the future,” the letter states.
As Virginia Janssens, Plastics Europe’s Managing Director, said: “We need all up- and down-stream levers to be deployed, including both mechanical and chemical recycling, to create a circular plastics economy. Chemical recycling is crucial because it is the only method available for recycling certain kinds of plastic waste and to reach the high-quality level for recycled plastics used for food contact, medical and other applications. However, the complexity of the European plastics system, and long-investment cycles, mean investment decisions taken now will determine what the industry looks like in 2050.”