We would like to share some thoughts within the chemical industry on plastic recycling. It is based on an article of Joseph Chang from ICIS.
The chemical industry must accelerate investment in plastics recycling to achieve scale as activist and government pressure mounts. The pace of change is too slow. The industry has to move a lot faster before society looks to the producers as the problem and who have to fix it.
There is no technical challenge. Thermodynamics – the science behind the process – is sound. There are plenty of prototypes, catalysts and small-scale but fully developed chemical recycling processes that can convert plastics to pyrolysis oil, and this can then be used to make pellets.
The real challenge is an economic solution and an infrastructure to collect the plastic waste, sort it and bring it into the process. Activists and industry have to come together to solve this. Also public policy has to play a role. Some kind of fund has to be established so that consumer behaviour can be changed to collect these plastics and bring them to recycling locations. The industry thinks it has a lot of time to solve this problem. But something has to be done rather quickly. Likely public policy will force action, restricting the sale and export of virgin plastics. That would be an option – basically don’t allow exports unless the pellets have a recycled content of at least 30%!
Another challenge is the social impact in local municipalities. Companies and governments must also consider the social impact of waste collection and plastics recycling. Having large-scale chemical recycling facilities where plastic waste is directed to may not be feasible. Building an ecosystem can technically be done. But is it also possible to influence consumer behaviour in less than a year?
The whole original article by Joseph Chang, 13-Apr-21, can be read on www.icis.com (News/Insight & Analysis).