From rubbish bag to circular chemistry. Exploring the potential of plastic waste as a raw material for the Rotterdam chemical sector

The Municipality of Rotterdam would like to utilise the waste produced by the city in the most circular way possible. A significant portion of the municipality’s high-grade recyclable waste is plastic. Until recently, this was mainly incinerated in the AEC. A significant proportion has recently been sorted for mechanical recycling via post-separation. While this makes some of the waste highly recyclable, it also makes some of it difficult to recycle. New chemical recycling techniques are currently being developed and rolled out for this purpose.

In this study, we examine successively (i) the amount of plastic waste available in Rotterdam, throughout the Netherlands and in surrounding countries, (ii) the techniques that can be used to process this waste, and (iii) the scale of chemistry in Rotterdam, in order to determine the extent to which the amount of waste corresponds to current production. We then outline a potential design for a Rotterdam recycling hub with related policy recommendations.

Waste in the Rotterdam region is nowhere near the amount needed to provide circular raw materials for the plastics manufacturing industry through chemical recycling.

To achieve circularity, Rotterdam will have to develop into a recycling hub, where plastic waste and possibly additional carbon-rich waste from northwestern Europe enters through the port. When importing, however, it will be necessary to examine the options with the greatest environmental benefit very carefully. Transport distance, type of waste and method of disposal should all be considered. If that happens, it will produce a dual effect: Rotterdam will have a strong source of new raw materials and exporting countries will be assured of high-quality and environmentally responsible waste treatment.