Chemical recycling in waste policy

As a complement to mechanical recycling, chemically recycling plastics waste can give a solid boost to the overall recycling percentage. Chemical recycling yields high-quality recyclate, moreover, that can be reused in food packaging. In several earlier studies CE Delft compared the climate benefits of various forms of chemical recycling with the routes of waste incineration and mechanical recycling. These studies showed that dissolution and depolymerisation technologies are better for the climate than incineration, to approximately the same degree as mechanical recycling. Pyrolysis and gasification both score about half as well in terms of climate benefit.

In the Netherlands’ 3rd National Waste Management Plan (LAP3), recycling technologies that can be used for a particular waste category are indicated by a three-rung order of preference (C1, C2, C3), on which chemical recycling is presently on the third, lowest rung. 

In this advisory study, commissioned by Rijkswaterstaat and the ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, CE Delft addresses the question whether the various forms of chemical recycling should not be listed differently in LAP3. Our recommendation is to promote dissolution and depolymerisation to the top rung (C1) and pyrolysis and gasification to the second (C2).

In March 2020 a minor update of this report was published. Because it is debatable whether dissolution is a form of chemical recycling or whether it should be classed under mechanical recycling, we have  clarified some of the terminology and scoping in our original study. The conclusions and analyses remain unchanged, though.