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Environmental and economic assessment of plastic waste recycling

A comparison of mechanical, physical, chemical recycling and energy recovery of plastic waste

The present study provides a comparative environmental and economic assessment of plastic waste recycling and energy recovery (incineration) technologies, using actual plant data complemented with external information. The recycling technologies include mechanical, physical and chemical recycling. The study concludes that the choice of the preferred management option for plastic waste should be based on three main criteria: i) the maximisation of material recovery while minimising processing impacts, principally related to energy consumption (reflecting environmental performance), in line with the waste hierarchy, ii) the specificity of the plastic waste stream and the treatment thereby required (technical feasibility), and iii) the economic feasibility. A key limitation to the study has been the lack of data available on the characteristics of the waste inputs to recycling, which is needed to understand in which cases physical or chemical recycling and mechanical recycling may compete for similar waste feedstock and in which cases physical or chemical recycling provides an alternative option for processing waste otherwise sent to energy recovery or landfill. Preliminary economic data suggests that some physical and chemical recycling technologies may be already economically viable without financial support, whereas others might become so in the medium to long term. As the sectors of physical recycling and chemical recycling are currently experiencing rapid technological developments, the analysis presented in this study should be updated as technologies become more mature, also in view of formulating appropriate and possible policy interventions.

Auteur : Garcia-Gutierrez, P ; Amadei, A.M ; Klenert, D ; Nessi, S ; Tonini, D ; Tosches, D ; Ardente, F ; Saveyn, H
Editeur : JRC - Commission Européenne
Année : 2023
Published: 2023-02-20
Corporate author(s): Joint Research Centre (European Commission)
JRC Technical Report
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Publié le 15/03/2023

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