As part of its mission to tackle the plastic pollution challenge and help advance a world where no plastic ends up in nature, The Consumer Goods Forum’s (CGF) Plastic Waste Coalition of Action (the Coalition) is pleased to announce the publication of a Vision and Principles Paper, entitled “Chemical Recycling in a Circular Economy for Plastics” which encourages the development of new plastics recycling technologies that meet six key principles for credible, safe and environmentally sound development. In support of this position paper, the Coalition has also published a new independent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study, that demonstrates that the chemical recycling of hard-to-recycle plastic waste could reduce the climate impact of plastic when compared to waste-to-energy incineration.

Guided by the global commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and in line with the newly announced UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, the Coalition is committed to driving progress towards realising a circular economy. To this end, in 2021, the Coalition launched its full set of Golden Design Rules, for the design of plastic packaging. At the same time, members developed a framework for optimal Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programmes, as part of their engagement in advanced and transitional markets to increase recycling rates for packaging that cannot be reused. The Coalition is equally working to encourage recycling innovation to close the loop, including chemical recycling to complement the growing mechanical capacity.

To help to achieve this final aim, the Coalition has aligned on a common vision and set of principles for the safe scaling of pyrolysis-based chemical recycling, which the Coalition believes provides guidance for the positive development of the technology. The paper states that chemical recycling could increase packaging recycling rates which could enable recyclability targets to be met, more specifically for hard-to-recycle plastics, for example post-consumer flexible film. To ensure that chemical recycling is developed and operated under credible, credible, safe and environmentally sound conditions and to help encourage this, the paper outlines six key principles which relate to: the complementarity with mechanical recycling, material traceability, process yields and environmental impact, health and safety as well as claims.

Members of the CGF’s Plastic Waste Coalition hope to play a role in making a positive case for a credible and safe chemical recycling system. The CGF members would welcome feedback and engagement on this study and its broader work within the Plastic Waste Coalition of Action.

Barry Parkin, Chief Sustainability Officer, Mars, Incorporated, said, “Chemical Recycling is a critical complement to Mechanical Recycling as it will allow large quantities of flexible packaging to be recycled into food grade packaging. This study demonstrates that chemical recycling has a significantly lower carbon footprint than the current end of life of flexible packaging.”

Colin Kerr, Packaging Director, Unilever, said, “As we continue to reduce the use of virgin plastic, new technologies such as chemical recycling can help drive up recycling rates and increase the availability of food grade recycled materials. The principles and Life Cycle Assessment work from The Consumer Goods Forum is key to ensuring this can happen in a safe and environmentally sound way.”

Llorenç Milà i Canals, PhD, Head of the Life Cycle Initiative Secretariat, United Nations Environmental Programme, said, “It is crucial to consider all potential environmental impacts across the life cycle of production and consumption systems when assessing technologies such as chemical recycling of plastics. A specific challenge with relatively new technologies is including the chemical composition of discharges, emissions and wastes from facilities, along with the need for additional pollution control equipment and management; these should form part of the assessment. Life Cycle Assessment is the standardised tool to do just that, assuring the necessary scrutiny by experts and interested parties; the Consumer Goods Forum has initiated a very useful process to shed light on many of these aspects in this report”

Sander Defruyt, Lead, New Plastics Economy, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said “Recognising that reduction and reuse of packaging should be prioritised, and recognising the limitations of the technology, the paper puts forward the industries’ position on what role Pyrolysis CR could play in the transition to a circular economy for plastics and what key principles and boundary conditions it should adhere to.”

Ignacio Gavilan, Sustainability Director, The Consumer Goods Forum, said, “There are many components needed to achieve a more positive future for plastic. Our focus must be to reduce dependency on plastics and improve packaging design, curbing the use of problematic materials and excess packaging. But where plastic packaging cannot be eliminated, reused or recycled using other methods, chemical recycling has a role within the circular economy. Chemical recycling takes plastics that can’t be mechanically recycled and transforms them into materials that can be used to make new plastics. Used in the right way as part of a holistic approach, chemical recycling can contribute to a world where no plastic ends up in nature.”

As part of the Coalition’s work, an independent study to look specifically at the topic of climate change impact was commissioned. The study was carried out by Sphera, the leading provider of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and risk management software, data and consulting services, and peer-reviewed throughout the process by a panel of experts from the United Nations Environmental Programme, Northwestern University (USA), and Eunomia. The study provides a life cycle impact assessment, and compares conventional plastics produced from fossil and incinerated at end of life, with chemically-recycled plastic in a circular system.

Its findings demonstrate that chemical recycling of hard-to-recycle plastic waste could reduce the climate impact of plastic when compared to waste-to-energy incineration. Specifically, the life cycle GHG emissions of flexible consumer packaging made from plastic waste through pyrolysis-based chemical recycling and recycled at end of life is 43% lower than plastic films manufactured from fossil fuels and disposed through incineration at end of life.

Further details on the findings of the LCA can be found in the Technical Report and the Non-Technical Summary.