Plastic recyclers and end markets need to align to make the circular economy a reality

HOUSTON (ICIS) – Mechanical and chemical recyclers of plastics must align with end markets for the circular economy to become a reality, panelists said during the 16th annual plastics recycling conference and expo, held practically this year due to the pandemic.

Large chemical companies have expressed their commitment to achieving sustainability goals by investing in recycling operations and developing new and innovative products. A panel of plastics manufacturers and recyclers shared their views on how the industry is working towards achieving a circular economy.

Holli Alexander, manager of strategic initiatives, global sustainability at Eastman Chemical, said her company was working on improving the infrastructure in the recycling room.

“We recognize that with advanced recycling or molecular recycling there is an opportunity to be very compatible and complementary with mechanical recycling,” she said. “We all need more materials to recycle. So we’re thinking about what we can do together to work together on the infrastructure and create the feed streams that work for all of us. ”

Jaime Camara, CEO of PetStar, a Mexican mechanical recycling company with a fully integrated bottle-to-bottle operation in Mexico City, said mechanical recycling works and should not be seen as competition to advanced recyclers.

“It can be done – it can be done,” he said. “It’s reliable – we’ve been doing this very consistently for a long time. And that can be done with high standards. ”

The challenge is to transform the raw material currently available on a large scale.

Camara said whether you’re talking about progress or chemical recycling, “We all need to have a systemic approach to the challenge.”

Hyejin Kim, ICIS analyst at Plastic Recycling, The Americas, said chemical recycling has gained momentum thanks to growing demand as the industry as a whole proposes sustainability goals.

She said the current issue of sourcing a steady stream of raw materials has made some in the industry concerned about competition for that material.

“According to the EPA, the US plastic recycling rate was around 9% in 2018 and stagnated,” she said. “Therefore a collective improvement of the tariffs would support the development of the supply.”

Matthew Marks, senior sustainability specialist at SABIC, said his company uses a design-to-recyclability model, where they work with customers to improve their designs and make them more recyclable at the end of their useful life.

Camara agreed, saying that building end markets is critical to a successful transition to a circular economy.

Click here to see the impact of packaging on the petrochemical industry on the ICIS packaging page

Click here to view regulatory objectives and a list of chemical and mechanical recyclers on the ICIS Circular Economy Topic Page

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