CHEMICAL RECYCLING

Chemical recycling refers to processes that turn plastic polymers back into individual monomers—allowing materials to be reused

TARGET USERS: Industry, Government

KEY CONSIDERATIONS: Chemical recycling returns plastic to the chemical building blocks that make up the material, while avoiding combustion, or burning, of plastics.

    MORE INFORMATION: https://sustainablepackaging.org/essentials-of-chemical-recycling/


    Collections: RECYCLING


    THE PROBLEM

    Traditional physical or mechanical recycling typically grinds down plastic into smaller parts that are then mixed and molded together to create lower grade plastic products. However, this process is only used for recovered high-value plastics, like those in milk jugs or water bottles. Because soft plastic like chip bags and chocolate wrappers do not have a financial value and are difficult to recycle using traditional methods, these plastics are often landfilled, burned or leaked into nature. It is said that 26% of plastic is currently profitable to recycle.

     

    THE SOLUTION

    Chemical recycling refers to processes that turn plastic polymers back into individual monomers—allowing materials to be reused in a variety of ways. In these processes, the chemical building blocks that make up the recycled plastic are recovered. The fundamental building blocks can in some cases be re-polymerized endlessly, giving them the qualities of brand-new, or virgin, resin. The transformation can occur through a variety of processes, all of which avoid combustion, or burning, of plastics.

    Chemical recycling allows us to recycle plastics for which there are no recycling solutions or missing capacities today, and is therefore complementary to mechanical recycling. It also helps manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of how, and where, recycled plastics can be used. Chemical recycling has long been used for nylons, and the industry is working to make it possible for other resin types.

     

    ALTERNATIVE SOLUTIONS

    Mechanical recycling

     

    CASE STUDY EXAMPLES

    Shaw Industries Group uses chemical recycling for nylon and polyester fiber in carpets. The company has invested more than $20 million to convert products that were once seen as waste into valuable resources. They reclaimed and recycled more than 800 million pounds of carpet from 2006 to 2015.

    Resinate Materials Group collects chemicals from plastic materials and works to promote the practical and economical value of chemically recycled plastics. The company has found several high-value applications for the chemicals harvested from recycled medical plastics. It uses certain types of recycled packaging to create coatings, adhesives and sealants.

    Patagonia, an outdoor clothing brand, chemically recycles non-wearable Capilene® polyester and fleece products. Today, the brand features a collection of products made completely from recycled materials. Patagonia’s chemical recycling process uses 76% less energy than the process used to make new polyester.

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