Beyond mechanical recycling: Exploring new ways to recycle

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In its European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy adopted in January 2018, the European Commission presented its ambition to see 10 million tons of recycled plastic materials reincorporated into new products by 2025. It requires that more than 50% of plastics is recycled by 2030 and that the demand for recycled materials is multiplied by four by 2030.

To be able to play its role in achieving these goals, the food and drink industry needs to be able to rely on regular supply streams of high-quality recycled plastic materials which can be used in contact with food. Unfortunately, recycled materials meeting the technical and legal requirements for use in contact with food is not widely available, either in terms of quantity of supply or economic cost. Moreover, not all plastic waste collected today is recycled. In 2016, only around 30% of collected plastic waste got converted into secondary raw materials.

In this context, there is a need to develop new technologies to recycle plastics, going beyond the limitations of mechanical recycling which can mainly be used for PET and HDPE and provide limited supply. This requires investing into R&D and innovation, developing adequate framework conditions, and above all, ensuring that the recycled materials and articles are safe for use in contact with food. While research and innovation should certainly not be limited to specific innovative technologies, chemical recycling processes already present opportunities which are worth exploring further.

This paper presents the preliminary views of the food and drink industry on exploring new ways to recycle plastic materials with a view to move towards a circular, sustainable use of plastic packaging for food and drink products. A close up on chemical recycling is provided in the annex.

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