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How much can chemical recycling contribute to plastic waste recycling in Europe? An assessment using material flow analysis modeling

  • Lase, Irdanto Saputra
  • Tonini, Davide
  • Caro, Dario
  • Albizzati, Paola F.
  • Cristóbal, Jorge
  • Roosen, Martijn
  • Kusenberg, Marvin
  • Ragaert, Kim
  • Van Geem, Kevin
  • Dewulf, Jo
  • De Meester, Steven
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2023
Ghent University Institutional Archive
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Plastic recycling rate in Europe is low, urging developments in recycling technology and strategies to increase circularity. Mechanical recycling (MR) has been the reference recycling technology for years, but in the near future chemical recycling (CR) options are expected to contribute to improve plastic circularity. This study uses a material flow analysis (MFA) at European level to provide quantitative estimates of the contribution of CR technologies to plastic recycling. Ten most used polymer types from five sectors are selected. A status quo 2018 scenario is modelled and compared to five potential future scenarios (in 2030) of plastic waste treatment, including one that only looks at improved waste collection, sorting, and MR technologies and four exploring developments of CR options. The so-called ‘missing plastics’, i.e., plastic waste generated but currently not accounted for in statistics, is considered in one of the future scenarios. The MFA results are compared by calculating four circularity indicators namely end-of-life recycling rate (EoL-RR), plastic-to-plastic rate, plasticto-chemicals rate, and plastic-to-fuels rate. The results indicate that in the most optimistic scenario the EoL-RR in 2030 is 73–80% (sum of plastic-to-plastic and plastic-to-chemical rates, excluding plastic-to-fuel rate), in which 41–46% is plastic-to-plastic from MR, 15–38% is plastic-to-plastic from CR and 19–35% is plastic-to-chemicals. The highest achievable plastic-to-plastic rate is estimated to be 61% (46% from MR and 15% from CR). In all future scenarios, the plastic-to-fuel rate is estimated to be 3–6%. The MFA results are also used to estimate potential recycled content availability in 2030, which suggest that closed-loop recycling and processing the ‘missing plastics’ will be necessary to achieve the targets.

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