Thanks to their low weight and versatility, plastics have seen a steady market growth over the years. Plastics have many innovative applications and contribute to an increasing convenience for manufacturers and consumers.
At the same time, most plastics still end up being landfilled or incinerated and some of the said innovations, like multi-material layers, are even hampering recycling efforts.
The Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA) is an initiative under the European strategy for plastics in a circular economy. The European Commission launched the Circular Plastics Alliance in December 2018 to help the plastics value chain boost the EU market for recycled plastics to 10 million tonnes by 2025.
Recycling ambition in Europe
Increased awareness of the environmental effects of plastic waste has bolstered the recycling ambition in Europe. Traditional ‘mechanical’ recycling largely relies on a relatively simple set of operations of separating plastic waste at the source, followed by advanced automatic sorting and cleaning, before remelting into new plastic beads that can be used to produce new products.
As not all plastic waste can be recycled in this way, the sector is looking at new technologies, where chemical and thermal processes are used to recover polymers and other valuable chemicals from plastics, rather than sending these plastics to incineration or landfills.
The JRC is assisting the CPA in these efforts by collecting data and modelling the flows of plastic products, from waste generation to use as recycled raw material in new products. This allows to highlight success stories of highly recycled materials, but also to identify bottlenecks in the recycling chain.
JRC has developed a standardised life cycle methodology to assess the environmental benefits and impacts of plastic treatment pathways. This methodology allows to properly quantify the environmental impacts - good and bad - from these new technologies (such as chemical recycling). The work relies on intensive collaborations with Commission departments for Environment (DG ENV), for Internal market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW) while involving also the departments for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), Research and Innovation (RTD), Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) and Eurostat.