Chemical Recycling

Industry is now pushing for a new technological fix for plastic waste, called “chemical recycling.” New proposals are popping up in Australia, the EU, Indonesia, Malaysia,Thailand, and the U.S., increasingly supported by favorable legislation. While plastics-to-plastics (P2P) and plastics-to-fuel (PTF) facilities are in principle different, industry increasingly touts certain facilities as “chemical recycling,” when in fact, these companies turn plastic back into a fossil fuel, which is later burned. The plastic industry’s promises of “plastic to fuel” & “chemical recycling” are a distraction. These false solutions justify the continued production of plastic and don’t address the source of the problem.

Amid overwhelming plastic pollution and an exponential rise in plastic production, the fossil fuel industry has touted chemical or “advanced” recycling as a solution to the plastic crisis. However, through extensive research GAIA has uncovered that the true nature of “chemical recycling” falls far short of the industry hype.

In 2017-2020, the plastics and chemical industry, represented by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), led an effort to make legislative changes to statewide policies to promote pyrolysis or “plastic-to-fuel” (PTF).

This factsheet summarizes the findings of the All Talk and No Recycling report. Which concludes that given the scale and urgency of the plastic pollution problem we don’t have any more time to waste on greenwashing tech-fixes like “chemical recycling” projects.

While plastics-to-plastics (P2P) and plastics-to-fuel (PTF) facilities are in principle different, industry increasingly touts certain facilities as “chemical recycling,” when in fact, these companies turn plastic back into a fossil fuel, which is later burned.

Drawing on the Chemical Recycling technical assessment released in June 2020, this briefing unveils various technologies referred to as “chemical recycling” and addresses toxicity, climate implications, technology readiness, financial viability, and circularity of the processes.

This joint paper presents key findings from a review of some of the most commonly cited chemical recycling and recovery LCAs, which reveal major flaws and weaknesses regarding scientific rigour, data quality, calculation methods, and interpretations of the results.

The report reveals that chemical recycling is polluting, energy intensive, and has a track record of technical failures, and concludes that it is impossible for chemical recycling to be a viable solution in the short window of time left to solve the plastic problem, especially at the scale needed.

Amid overwhelming plastic pollution and an exponential rise in plastic production, the fossil fuel industry has touted chemical or “advanced” recycling as a solution to the plastic crisis.

In light of recent promotional statements from technology providers, governments, and academic and research institutions, this report looks at the proposed application of converting municipal waste into fuel, namely for gas turbine aircraft engines.

In a world where climate and waste crises are worsening at a staggering rate, the idea of turning waste into fuels might sound like a great solution.