“Design for Chemical Recycling” kills Innovation Upstream

Zero Waste Europe, together with RPa and ECOS, has published the report Designing for real recycling, not plastic lock-in

Even if 40 % of plastic packaging is reported as recycled in the EU, the effective recycling rate is about 10-15%. Only 5% of the value of plastic packaging material is estimated to be retained in the economy.

Why? Because most plastic packaging today is not designed for reuse and recycling or recyclable, although they are claimed to be. Moreover, plastic products are increasingly being marketed with misleading claims of being recyclable and products that claim to be recyclable are not always recycled.

In order for them to be recycled and recyclable, they need to be designed for mechanical recycling and have effective collection and sorting systems throughout the EU.

Janek Vähk, Climate, Energy, and Air Pollution Coordinator at Zero Waste Europe, says:

‘Designing for chemical recycling’ endangers actual recyclability of plastics and prevents efforts to phase out hard-to-recycle plastics. Considering the high environmental impact, lack of infrastructure and unproven efficiency, chemical recycling should be the last resort”.

Therefore, a harmonised and enforceable definition and criteria for recyclability of plastics must build on real recycling, i.e. existing, widespread and scaled operations. EU must avoid diverting plastics to chemical recycling by ensuring they are either reused or designed for mechanical recycling. We must design products to be treated through sustainable, efficient, and low-carbon operations.

We must firstly design products to be treated through sustainable, efficient, low-carbon operations.

We recommend:

  • Establish a clear harmonised definition of recyclability that combines qualitative definition, quantitative criteria and implementing legislation which specify design-for-recycling criteria Strengthen enforcement of the essential requirements in the revised PPWD Directive and a bonus-malus and eco-modulation fee system complemented with clear restrictions
  • Ensure that recyclability is assessed on the basis of best available technology with respect to a ‘waste recycling hierarchy’, i.e. priority is given to mechanical recycling with no competition with other technologies for the same plastic waste stream
  • Replace the ‘green dot’ and strengthen recyclability claims towards consumers by introducing a mandatory, traceable label

“A strong push towards a truly circular design is needed to prepare plastics for reuse and recycling according to the most environmentally sound options and avoid carbon-intensive treatment, such as pyrolysis and gasification. Plastic packaging should be designed for mechanical recycling, and have effective collection and sorting systems throughout the EU”, states Vähk.

The full report can be read here.


Zero Waste Europe, press release, 2021-07-12.


Zero Waste Europe


Renewable Carbon News – Daily Newsletter

Subscribe to our daily email newsletter – the world's leading newsletter on renewable materials and chemicals