The number of chemical recycling projects for waste plastics is rising worldwide, according to an updated trend study conducted by the German consulting firm Ecoprog. By early 2023, Ecoprog had identified more than 140 chemical recycling projects worldwide in various stages of development, an increase of 50 projects compared to the previous year. In total, Ecoprog has tracked close to 180 plants and projects around the world.
The number of projects in the construction stage has doubled, rising from six to 12, according to the Cologne-based consultants. As in the previous year, the majority of the projects use pyrolysis as their main technology.
In line with the growth in the total number of projects, the number of operational plants increased from 20 to 37. Together, these plants can treat nearly 145,000 tonnes of waste plastics per year. However, most of the plants are research facilities and not commercial projects, according to Ecoprog.
The growing number of plants and project announcements “can be seen as an indication that this technology continues to develop towards a booming market.” This is also borne out in the increasing number of second or third projects being pursued by existing technology suppliers, the consulting firm added.
Ecoprog noted that as the industry grows, chemical recycling continues to involve companies from several sectors. These include chemical and oil companies investing to produce feedstock for fuel production, start-ups and technology suppliers seeking to develop and commercialise chemical recycling technologies, and plastics producers and converters “exploring opportunities to enhance recycling practices.”
Chemical recycling remains controversial
Despite all the progress, the study's authors concluded that “chemical recycling remains controversial.” For proponents, it offers future potential to fully recycle plastics without downcycling. Moreover, even contaminated and mixed waste streams that currently cannot be mechanically recycled could potentially be recycled with chemical processes, according to Ecoprog. “On the other hand, chemical recycling is continuously criticised for its CO2 footprint and it also remains uncertain to what extent chemical recycling will become economically viable.” To date, there is “a lack of regulation in many countries and regions,” particularly with regard to whether chemical recycling’s input and/or output streams can be classified as recycled.
Ecoprog’s “Trend Study Chemical Recycling” analyses the technologies, market factors and developments, plant inventory, projects and competition in the field of chemical recycling worldwide. The study can be purchased for €1,800 plus VAT from the website www.ecoprog.com.