Demand for high-quality recycled plastics is rising globally, with many large companies pledging to increase the recycled content in their products, and moves towards mandating recycled content in certain industries.

In Europe, this legislation includes the Single Use Products (SUP) directive, which mandates 25pc recycled content in PET beverage bottles by 2025, and 30pc in all beverage bottles by 2030. The European Commission has also proposed regulations that would, if adopted, mandate recycled content across almost all plastic packaging and plastic car components by the start of the next decade.

This demand, together with ongoing concern about plastic waste, has driven significant investment in the field of chemical recycling in recent years, leading to a large and ever-growing number of projects being announced. The scale of these projects varies significantly, from pilot/ demonstration size up to much larger units capable of processing 100,000t/yr or more of plastic waste. Argus tracks these announcements in our Chemical Recycling Project tracker.

The volumes displayed in the Europe chart reflect projects where a production capacity, location and start-up date have been announced. This includes a number of projects that have yet to reach the stage of final investment decision or construction. The nascent nature of the industry, where technologies, supply chains and legislative frameworks still need to be developed, means that some of these projects are likely to be delayed. Some de- lays have already occurred owing to disruption to equipment supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic. The projected figures also should be taken in context of the current economic environment, which is likely to make attracting the significant investment needed to fund the design, construction and start-up phase of projects more challenging.

The global chart includes “speculative” pyrolysis capacity. This includes projects that are judged to be substantial, but have been announced without specifying a capacity, location and/or start-up date.

The steep growth curve must be put in the context of an industry growing from almost zero. Even if all of these projects progress and global chemical recycling capacity reaches 6mn t/yr by 2026, this has to be viewed alongside global plastics capacity of 255mn t/yr, just for polyethylene and polypropylene. But it is a necessary step and if the first commercial scale units are proven then growth can continue apace to contribute to recycling targets.

Author Will Collins, Recycled Polymers Editor

 This insight is delivered by Argus’ polymer experts using data and analysis from the Argus Recycled Polymers Service. 
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