22 July 2020

Seven steps to make rules on chemical recycling right – new NGO briefing

Chemical recycling could become a loophole in EU waste and chemical legislation, diverting the EU from reaching its circular economy and climate goals. European institutions can avoid this problem now.

The Rethink Plastic alliance, ECOS, Health Care Without Harm (HEAL), European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Zero Waste Europe have published a briefing with recommendations on how to regulate chemical recycling technologies and their outputs.

Regulations have a great influence on chemical recycling technologies and their outputs – and may ultimately contribute to reducing the impact plastics have on our ecosystems, already under great stress. Nowadays, more and more projects and policies are promoting chemical recycling. The industry is presenting it as a solution to overcome the limitations of mechanical recycling and an enabler of a plastic circular economy – however, many uncertainties surround these technologies and their impacts.

These uncertainties have been listed in a recent technical assessment from GAIA, a global network of more than 800 grassroots groups, NGOs, and individuals. The report shows similar limitations for chemical recycling to those of mechanical recycling, such as the need for pure feedstock. What is more, the report identifies several hazardous environmental and health impacts caused by chemical recycling processes.

Therefore, we call on the European Commission to apply the precautionary principle and introduce the right policy framework to regulate chemical recycling.

EU policymakers should consider the following recommendations:

  1. Review the EU waste legislation to introduce harmonised definitions of chemical recycling technologies that exclude fuel production;
  2. Clarify the legal status of chemical recycling technologies in the waste hierarchy;
  3. Limit chemical recycling feedstock to contaminated and degraded durable plastics;
  4. Evaluate environmental and health impacts of chemical recycling at the industrial level;
  5. Establish a robust methodology for calculating the climate impact of chemical recycling;
  6. Develop a standard to establish the actual recycled content qualitatively and quantitatively;
  7. Limit EU funding to chemical recycling processes that have a lower carbon footprint than the production of plastic from virgin feedstock.

Finally, NGOs hoist a red flag: high expectations on chemical recycling uncertain potential can divert attention from the need to develop preventive measures, such as eliminating hazardous substances in plastics from the product design phase.


ECOS is co-funded by the European Commission and EFTA

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