In an article published on June 3, 2020, the non-governmental alliance Global Initiative for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) announced the publication of a technical assessment and research briefing on the use of chemical recycling for plastic waste. The documents argue that chemical recycling is a distraction rather than a solution to the current plastic pollution crisis. Following an introduction and a detailed comparison of the current chemical recycling technologies, the authors find that the technical, economic, and environmental problems related to the technology are significant. Specifically, the assessment highlights (i) the release of toxic chemicals present in and produced by the processes into the environment via air emissions, (ii) the large carbon footprint of chemical recycling processes due to their reliance on external energy sources, (iii) current inability to prove chemical recycling can work at scale, (iv) an insufficient economic model as the products from chemical recycling cannot compete economically with virgin polymers, and (v) that chemical recycling largely does not fit into the circular economy concept as most operations end up burning the recycling outputs as fuel.

Chemical engineer and co-author of the report, Andrew Neil Rollinson, told Ends Europe that chemical recycling “represents a dangerous distraction from the need for governments to ban single-use and unnecessary plastics, while simultaneously locking society into a ‘business as usual’ future of more oil and gas consumption.”

In contrast, industry association Chemical Recycling Europe has recently published a position paper calling “for a faster recognition and legislation review to unlock the potential of chemical recycling” including public investments to develop and implement related technologies. The association argues that “investment in developing chemical recycling technologies and infrastructure will lead to the creation of new jobs and the protection of our environment by curbing CO2 emissions and increasing EU recycling capacity.”

Read more

GAIA (June 2, 2020). “Chemical Recycling: Miracle Cure, or Snake Oil?

Robert Hodgson (June 4, 2020). “Chemical recycling of plastics a ‘dangerous distraction’, campaigners warn.” Ends Europe

Chemical Recycling Europe (June 2, 2020). “Call for faster recognition & legislation review to unlock the potential of chemical recycling.”

Sustainable Plastics (June 3, 2020). “Chemical Recycling Europe calls for a legislation review on chemical recycling.”

Steve Toloken (June 5, 2020). “Study: Chemical recycling ‘not the answer’ to plastic waste.” Sustainable Plastics

Elaine Burridge (June 16, 2020). “Feature: How are initiatives to develop sustainable chemical recycling technologies progressing?Chemical Watch


GAIA (June 2020). “Chemical Recycling: Distraction, Not Solution.” (pdf)

GAIA (June 2020). “Chemical Recycling: Status, Sustainability, and Environmental Impacts.” (pdf)