There is no silver bullet to solve the issue of plastic waste but the benefits of chemical recycling can help foster a more circular economy
Much has been said about reducing or eliminating plastic but utilizing and scaling the technology available to create a more circular economy that turns waste to value could be a better solution.
Industry will often talk about ‘closing the loop,’ but what do we really mean?
As the world’s population grows, it is inevitable that our plastic consumption will also increase. Some of the latest modelling from the International Energy Agency has said that plastic production could grow from 359 million tons in 2018 to 540 million by 2040. The challenge for us all – consumers, corporations and governments – is to ensure that this increased use of plastic does not lead to 540 million tons of plastic waste polluting our environment.
The solution is not to ban plastic outright, but to shift how we view, treat and manage plastic in our lives and supply chains. We must give it much greater value and see it not as just a throwaway commodity, but something that can be used, recycled and made into a new product. In turn this will create a circular economy by making sure that plastic which is no longer needed is collected and recycled again and again. This is closing the loop.
To solve the issue of plastic waste, we must highlight and embrace the technology that exists.
First however, we, as consumers and businesses, must accept this challenge. At present, less than 10% of the world’s plastic is recycled. A shocking 90% therefore ends up in landfill, is incinerated or worse still, pollutes our rivers, oceans and natural environment.
Despite significant advances over the years in recycling technology, participation at both consumer and corporate levels have struggled to keep pace. This is in part due to a lack of understanding about the technology, as well as the level of support and investment needed in the infrastructure.
Chemical recycling technology is already deployed around the world, saving a significant amount of waste from ending up in landfill and polluting our environment.
Chemical recycling has long been thought of as either too expensive or not scalable enough to create a fully closed loop circular system that everyone from businesses to consumers can benefit from.
At Agilyx, we’re currently on our seventh generation of chemical recycling technology and lead the industry with the first commercial-scale plastic-to-plastic recycling facility in Regenyx, our joint venture with Americas Styrenics (AmSty). With this technology we have recently passed a significant milestone having recycled more than 4,400 tons of post-use plastic. That’s the equivalent of nearly 20 Statues of Liberty since our launch!
Developed over more than a decade and a half, our technology can be easily scaled and applied to any number of chemical pathways to meet the requirements of our partners via our licensing model, so that more and more companies and consumers have access to leading recycling solutions for a variety of plastics.
This is significant because it enables us to turn some of the hardest to recycle and most contaminated post-use plastic back into its chemical building blocks, able to be transformed into high-grade applications such as food packaging or pharmaceutical products.
As proud as we are of our technology, we know we can’t do it alone. There are a number of chemical recycling and mechanical recycling technologies in existence today and it will take a combination of all of them in order to address the problem of plastic waste on a global scale. However, obtaining reliable sources of post-use plastic to be recycled is a long-standing barrier for the industry. Our joint venture, Cyclyx, is a consortium of companies working together to increase collection efforts in order to address this issue and get post-use plastic out of landfills and the environment and back into a circular economy.
If we want to truly conquer this issue, we must all work together to make it happen.
Closing the loop brings a range of benefits beyond finding a new purpose for converted plastic waste.
While many see the obvious benefits of recycling more, such as taking waste out of our environment and giving it new higher value uses, advancements and efficiencies in recycling technologies mean there are many additional benefits to creating a more circular economy.
Green investment in the industry will create new jobs and support innovation and wider improvements across the sector.
Chemical recycling also helps dramatically reduce the emissions from producing new plastic products, given the high energy levels needed to extract virgin raw materials. In fact, a recent life cycle analysis (LCA) of our depolymerization technology shows a 75% reduction in CO2-emissions over the production of ‘new’ plastic and incineration.
Companies are now having to consider their net impact on the world and face a constant battle with reducing their emissions. By increasing recycling rates or choosing to source or produce products and packaging from recycled materials, they can dramatically reduce their overall emissions.
We are all too aware of the impact plastic waste has around the world, but the solutions exist to better manage and convert it back into valuable products again. We must embrace the challenge and champion the technology. Moving to a fully circular economy is by no means easy, but if we capitalize on the progress and systems already in place, we’ll be much closer to making it a reality.