- Closed Loop Partners releases “first-of-kind” report
- Examines economic, environmental, and human health impacts of diverse recycling technologies, assessing where they fit in a circular plastics economy
November 17, New York – Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy has released its latest report, Transitioning to a Circular System for Plastics: Assessing Molecular Recycling Technologies in the United States and Canada. This research fits into the firm’s broader Advancing Circular Systems for Plastics & Packaging Initiative, which tackles plastic waste through innovation and investment; prioritizing design innovation and reuse models to reduce the overall volume of plastics produced, while also strengthening recycling infrastructure to recover existing plastics after use. This new report focuses specifically on one part of the recycling system: “molecular” or “advanced” recycling technologies. It examines their potential role in a circular and safe future for plastics, and the policy, market, and environmental and human health impact conditions needed to achieve this optimal future state.
The sheer diversity and volume of plastics in our system today, from textiles to packaging to electronics, means that no single sector, technology, or approach can solve the plastics waste challenge entirely or quickly enough. Plastics production is set to triple by 2050; to move the needle on the 9% of plastics currently recycled globally, a suite of solutions must be deployed, first emphasizing reduction and reuse, and also acknowledging the role of recycling in keeping valuable plastics in play for longer and reducing the need for fossil fuel extraction.
Molecular recycling, also commonly referred to as advanced recycling or chemical recycling, refers to a diverse sector, which encompasses dozens of technologies that use solvents, heat, enzymes, and even sound waves to purify or transform plastics at the molecular level. While these technologies require more energy than traditional mechanical recycling, they can process a wider range of plastic waste into like-new materials. Their various outputs can be looped back into manufacturing supply chains without compromising quality or being downcycled.
Collectively, molecular recycling technologies have the potential to expand the scope of plastics we can recycle, help preserve the value of resources in our economy, and help meet the demand for high-quality, recycled plastics, even food-grade plastic. However, to date, there is a scarcity of comparative analysis among the different technologies and a lack of systems-level analysis of their potential financial, environmental, and human health opportunities and risks.
In Assessing Molecular Recycling Technologies in the United States and Canada, Closed Loop Partners goes deeper into many of the unanswered questions regarding these technologies, committing to support data-backed decision-making in this early-stage sector. Together with its technical partner Anthesis Group, Closed Loop Partners worked with nine companies – APK AG, PureCycle Technologies, Carbios, GreenMantra, JEPLAN, gr3n, Brightmark, Plastic Energy, and Enerkem – across the sector’s three molecular recycling technology categories: purification, depolymerization, and conversion. The report shares insights drawn from the evaluation of the nine datasets, with the goal of educating investors, brands, retailers, policymakers and nonprofit organizations that seek actionable information on the sector.
“To close the loop on plastic waste we will need to deploy multiple strategies and harness innovation in reduction and reuse alongside a diversity of recycling technologies. It’s imperative that we recover all kinds of plastic, including and beyond single-use plastic packaging. Two-thirds of plastics used in the U.S. today are for applications like wind turbines, textiles, car parts and healthcare devices––which are viable feedstock for different advanced recycling technologies,” says Kate Daly, Managing Director of the Center for the Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners.
“This report should serve as a guide to investors, policymakers, and anyone who cares about the plastic waste crisis and would like to explore what must be true in order for new and established technologies to play a safe and viable role in a circular system for plastics, without creating unintended consequences.”
The report includes 10 key takeaways and calls to action for stakeholders to advance safe and circular solutions to address the urgent plastic waste crisis. Key insights from the report include:
- Overall, the average carbon emissions from producing plastic through all three molecular recycling technology categories showed an improvement compared to corresponding virgin plastics systems, with environmental impacts varying within and across the technology categories
- A greener grid will play a critical role in decreasing the environmental impact of these technologies and renewable energy inputs should be integral to any commercialization strategy of technologies looking to link to the circular plastics economy
- Molecular recycling technologies can complement existing mechanical recycling infrastructure by processing plastic waste that mechanical recyclers would otherwise have to pay to discard; integrating a mix of all three molecular recycling technologies into the broader recycling system in the United States and Canada could double the amount of plastic packaging recycled, compared to 2019 recycling rates, and generate up to $970 million dollars (USD) annually for the existing recycling system
- Policymakers, investors, and businesses, among other key stakeholders, will determine the degree of environmental, human health, and financial success of this sector; they are responsible for ensuring that the most circular solutions are scaled, incentives are established to support circular outcomes, and policies and regulations maintain and protect human health, worker safety, and climate change mitigation
This report includes over 100 questions to supplement an investor’s due diligence of molecular recycling technologies, as well as links to nine case studies that outline best practices in the market today. To download Closed Loop Partners’ latest report and sign up for educational webinars on the topic, please visit the Closed Loop Partners website here.