Enabling a circular economy around plastic packaging is crucial for addressing the environmental challenges of single-use plastics made from fossil fuel feedstocks. Virgin plastic (newly produced, unused plastic) dominates the packaging market because of its versatility, established production technologies, and abundant feedstock availability.
A significant downside of virgin plastics is their widespread use, which has significant consequences for nature and the environment. To meet the urgent need for sustainable alternatives, consumers and regulators worldwide are advocating a shift from single-use plastics to recycled ones. Increasing the use of recycled plastics in packaging is a promising solution that could reduce reliance on fossil fuel feedstocks and minimize the environmental impact of plastic waste.
However, transitioning to a circular economy for plastics packaging faces a significant hurdle: insufficient supply of recycled polymers and monomers. Our projections indicate that by 2040, the demand for recycled plastics in Europe for packaging alone will exceed supply by 4.5 million tons, a shortfall of approximately 45%.
To bridge this gap, the chemicals industry plays a crucial role in developing and implementing new recycling technologies. Chemical, biological, and dissolution recycling methods are emerging as promising approaches to expand the range of recycled polymers for packaging. These methods allow a wide range of used plastics to be converted back to virgin polymers or even monomers. These innovative technologies can transform plastic waste into valuable resources, reducing reliance on virgin materials and promoting a more sustainable and circular approach to packaging and plastic products in general.