WE.2.C || Benefits of Retaining Materials and Their Quality in a Circular Economy

Stallkamp, Christoph; Volk, Rebekka; Schultmann, Frank

Europe’s plastic production reached a new high in 2019, with almost 40% of plastic being used for packaging. The high use of plastic leads to a high amount of plastic waste, where only 33% was collected to be recycled. Plastic production depends on fossil resources, has a high energy need, and high environmental impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions during production. The recycling of plastic waste can reduce dependency on fossil resources and establish a circular economy to achieve sustainability goals and reduce environmental impacts. Currently, chemical recycling of plastic is discussed to complement the existing mechanical recycling. A comparison of the recycling technologies is needed to identify and establish the most environmentally and economically promising technology for each waste stream. However, the quality of the recovered material has a high impact on the assessment results. This study discusses different assessment metrics for recycling technologies concerning the influence of recovered materials’ quality by substitution rates and the circularity potential. In a case study, mechanical and chemical recycling via pyrolysis of HDPE, LDPE, PP, PVC and PS from lightweight packaging waste from Germany is assessed. Mechanical recycling has a lower environmental impact than chemical recycling for material substitution rates greater than 0.5. Chemical recycling has a higher potential to close the plastic loop and retain plastics within the economy due to a higher secondary material quality. The assessment allows the evaluation of recycling options for the individual plastics from the German collection systems for packaging with a volume of 1,270,000 tons per year.