Alexander said APR was concerned that too much focus on chemical recycling could result in large consumer goods companies paying less attention to making their plastic packaging more recyclable.
The APR Policy Statement named Design for Recycling “essential to a circular economy” and said that “chemical recycling should not lead packaging manufacturers to disregard Design for Recycling guidelines”.
ACC supports these guidelines and says many brands are redesigning their packaging for better recyclability.
“ACC has been a long-time supporter of APR, and as an associate member, we support a broad adoption of APR’s design for recycling guidelines,” said Baca. “But the fact remains, if we want to create a circular economy for plastics, we need both advanced and mechanical recycling processes.”
In an interview, Alexander repeatedly voiced his concern over what he called a story that chemical recycling is a “silver bullet”.
“I think the narrative manages that this definition is kind of the preferred route and will solve all problems,” said Alexander. “There’s this concept that advanced recycling technologies are somehow better and it means that traditional recycling doesn’t work, which it doesn’t in any way, shape or form.”
He said there are important unresolved questions about whether enough suitable raw materials can be collected for chemical recycling.
“We know chemical recycling works. But so far, the chemical recyclers that are part of APR have mostly worked with raw materials that are left over as a by-product of processing post-consumer material,” said Alexander.
APR’s policy statement states that chemical recycling can extend the recovery of “materials that cannot be recycled through mechanical processes today”.
He also argued that mechanical recycling has a smaller environmental footprint than chemical recycling because the energy required to chemically break down polymers is required.
“I don’t think mechanical recycling has a much smaller carbon footprint or energy consumption than chemical recycling,” said Alexander.
Some groups supported this point. A 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that mechanical recycling uses “significantly less energy” than chemical recycling.
EMF said the two technologies should not compete for raw materials and that chemical recycling should be used for mixed, substandard, or multi-material plastics.
However, ACC argued that it was difficult to compare the greenhouse gas footprint of the different technologies, saying that they were complementary.
“Direct comparisons of greenhouse gas footprints are not useful,” said Baca. “Mechanical processes transform homogeneous plastics such as bottles into mostly long-lasting applications such as railway sleepers, synthetic wood and carpets.
“There are often limits to mechanical recycling to solve the whole plastic waste challenge, which is why we believe both are needed,” said Baca. “Advanced recycling processes transform heterogeneous plastic mixtures back into virgin plastics that are suitable for any application, including food and pharmaceutical contact as well as medical-grade packaging.”
This story was updated on June 2 at 9 a.m. ET to change a quote from Alexander where he mispronounced himself in the first interview.