Planet 4 min
Chemical recycling: plastics revitalised
Chemical recycling is often hailed as being a panacea. This process could make it possible to integrate all used plastics into a perfect circular loop. Many polymer producers, often accompanied by innovative start-ups, are making inroads and are now offering solutions – proof positive of the technology’s importance. What are these solutions? What exactly can we expect from them? Let’s take a look…
Chemical recycling: plastics revitalised
Chemical recycling: plastics revitalised

Big Bang for plastic waste

Conversion technology is the most popular among polymer producers. It involves a long process in three stages: cracking the waste to produce hydrocarbons, then steam cracking the latter to obtain monomers that must then be polymerised. But, its main advantage is that it processes waste that is too complex (multi-layer, multi-material, etc.) for mechanical recycling processes.

Recycling the unrecyclable

Spanish company Repsol is greatly interested in the recycling of polyolefins such as PE (polyethylene) and PP (polypropylene) to produce new polymers capable of providing full guarantees for sanitary or food use. To achieve this, the company has opted for conversion by pyrolysis, with the stated objective of being able to, within a few years, recycle 100,000 tonnes per year of plastics currently deemed non-recyclable.
Germany's BASF is also a pioneer in testing pyrolytically-recycled polymers for products such as mozzarella packaging, transparent refrigerator components and insulation boxes as part of its Chemcycling programme.

Plastic Energy, a highly courted innovative start-up

Another major project is that of the Saudi company Sabic and the British Plastic Energy company, which have launched the construction of a major chemical recycling unit in the Netherlands that should be operational as early as next year.

By partnering with Plastic Energy, the Saudi company hopes to increase its production of recycled plastics by using its pyrolysis technology (Tac), which converts soiled or contaminated waste into an oil called Tacoil. Tacoil is a form of recycled oil that will be used to manufacture ethylene and propylene, two essential components of plastics. Once refined, these oils will be used to produce polymers with properties equivalent to those of virgin resins. These polymers will be suitable for contact with food, a major criterion for the stakeholders in the food packaging industry.


Photograph: image bank

Using the TAC pyrolysis process, it is now possible to manufacture recycled propylene or ethylene which will soon be used in food packaging.

Sabic is not alone in its interest in the technology developed by Plastic Energy, since major petrochemical groups Ineos and Total have also joined forces with the chemical recycling specialist to jointly build plants equivalent to that in the Netherlands in other parts of Europe. Those plants will also produce Tacoil, which will be used as a raw material in their recycled polymer production processes.

Vynova, a new type of PVC

Last November, Vynova proudly announced the launch of the world's first range of PVC made from circular ethylene. The recycled ethylene is a by-product of the conversion of plastic waste by Sabic at its plant in Geleen, the Netherlands. This perfectly illustrates how this technology makes it possible to manufacture polymers by putting other polymers through chemical recycling processes.

Photograph: image bank

Wether flexible or rigid, PVC is a polymer that is particularly popular in the building sector. Thanks to the conversion process, it can be chemically recycled and used again to manufacture windows, floor coverings, pipes, etc.

In addition to being the monomer of polyethylene, ethylene is also one of the precursors of other plastics, including PVC. The PVC produced in this way, whether flexible or rigid, is in fact a polymer that meets the same stringent quality and performance requirements as conventional PVC resins. Better still, by creating PVC using recycled ethylene, Vynova claims to emit 50% less CO2 than processes using conventional fossil raw materials. 


The American company Dow is very interested in polyurethane mattress foams. To find out more, you can read our interview by clicking on this link.


If you enjoyed this article, you'll love the next!