Chemical, or feedstock, recycling is a general term used to describe innovative technologies where post-consumer plastic waste is converted into valuable chemicals, to be used as fuel or raw materials by the chemical industry. These technologies include pyrolysis, gasification, chemical depolymerization, catalytic cracking & reforming, and hydrogenation. With chemical recycling plastic waste is converted into feedstock, i.e. monomers, oligomers and higher hydrocarbons that can be used to produce virgin-like polymers to create new plastic articles.
New technologies have been developed for chemical recycling and several pilot plants across Europe are now researching new processes to recycle plastic waste. Yet to be expanded to operate on an industrial scale, environmental and economic impacts of these technologies must yet be assessed.
Moreover, being fairly new processes, chemical recycling needs to be conceptualized in the legislation, so that its output material is clearly defined and distinguished from energy recovery.
Chemical recycling should be seen as a complementary solution to mechanical recycling where the latter proves to be inefficient in case of difficult to recycle plastics, i.e. not properly sorted, multilayered or heavily contaminated waste. At the same time, increased collection of high-quality waste and design for recycling should remain the two priorities in order to increase the recycling rates for plastics.