From plastic waste to virgin-grade products
Plastics do have proven benefits during their use phase – for example preservation of food loss in packaging applications, lightweight construction of vehicles, and building insulation. Plastic waste, however, has become a major global challenge. Globally, around 250 million metric tons of plastic waste are generated each year. Only around 20 percent of this plastic is recycled, thus keeping the material in circulation. Therefore, more plastic waste should be recycled overall. Solving this challenge and building a more circular economy for plastics requires innovation and joint efforts across the value chain. BASF will contribute to this by developing innovative technologies and products that promote the recycling of plastics.
A key pillar in this regard is our ChemCycling™ project. In this project on chemical recycling, we are working with partners to further develop the pyrolysis technology which turns plastic waste into a secondary raw material called pyrolysis oil. We feed the oil into BASF’s Verbund production at the beginning of the value chain, thereby saving fossil resources. By using a third-party audited mass balance approach, the share of recycled material is allocated to certain products manufactured in the Verbund. These products are independently certified and have the same properties as those manufactured from fossil feedstock. Customers can therefore further process them in the same way as conventionally manufactured products and use them in demanding applications.
The ChemCycling™ project focuses on plastic waste that is not recycled mechanically for technological, economic or ecological reasons. Examples are plastics with residues, mixed plastic waste fractions, consisting of different plastic types, which will not be sorted further or used tires which are not recycled otherwise. Together, mechanical and chemical recycling can increase the overall recycling rates and contribute to a more circular economy for plastics.
Video: Closing the loop with ChemCyclingTM
Facts about ChemCycling™
Complementary: Chemical recycling can be used to process plastic waste streams that are not recycled mechanically for technological, economic or ecological reasons. For example, while sorted single-stream plastic waste should be recycled mechanically, chemical recycling can be used for mixed post-consumer plastic waste streams, consisting of, e.g., PE, PP, PS, for which further sorting is not economical.
- Solution oriented: Chemical recycling is an important addition to the recycling landscape. Redesigning plastic products to make them mechanically recyclable is not always feasible, for example, if this would lower performance or increase material consumption.
- Virgin-quality output: With chemical recycling, plastic waste streams can be converted back into feedstock for the chemical industry and allocated to products manufactured in BASF’s integrated chemical production network (Verbund) via a mass balance approach. These products have the exact same properties as those manufactured from fossil feedstock.
- Ease of use: Our customers can process these products in the same way as conventionally manufactured products and use them in applications with high demands on quality, hygiene and performance. These include, for example, medical applications, food packaging or safety-relevant automotive parts. This helps achieving higher recycled content targets for products which must meet highest quality standards.
- Certified transparently: Both the mass balance procedure, by which the proportion of recycled feedstock is allocated to the product, and the products themselves are certified by independent auditors.
- Resource and emission saving: By using recycled feedstock, we can save fossil resources. Additionally, products made with chemically recycled feedstock according to a mass balance approach release fewer greenhouse gases than conventional products from primary fossil resources. This is because the plastic waste is not incinerated but used to create new chemical products.
The ChemCycling™ project was launched by BASF in 2018. In the pilot phase, BASF presented first prototypes with customers. These included mozzarella cheese packaging, transparent refrigerator components and insulation boxes for sensitive applications. Since 2020, first commercial products were launched by customers, including pharma boxes, transport packaging and food packaging.
We have established partnerships with Quantafuel, ARCUS, Pyrum and New Energy. Quantafuel and ARCUS are specialists for pyrolysis of mixed plastic waste, Pyrum and New Energy are specialized in the pyrolysis of end-of-life tires. With these partnerships, BASF has taken a significant step towards establishing a broad supply base for pyrolysis oil and towards offering customers products based on chemically recycled plastic waste on a commercial scale.
However, any new recycling process needs acceptance as recycling from market and regulators. There are still some open questions with regards to technology, economy and regulation. We closely engage with the relevant stakeholders to tackle these challenges.