Understanding the Environmental Impacts of Chemical Recycling
- Ten concerns with existing life cycle assessments
Chemical recycling and recovery of plastics often refers to processes such as gasification and pyrolysis, in which polymers are chemically broken down to monomers. These monomers can be used to produce new polymers and plastics, either by reproducing the original or developing new types of polymeric products.
Good data on environmental impacts of chemical recycling is difficult to acquire due to the limited maturity of the chemical recycling concept at commercial scale: there are currently no operational plants of significant scale available to recycle plastic to new plastic, despite five decades of attempted effort. Yet, life cycle assessments (LCAs) developed by, or in affiliation with, businesses are being used to make sustainability claims related to these chemical recycling and recovery technologies.
This 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.