Turning plastic waste into new chemical 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. Consequently, there is increasing regulatory pressure regarding recycling targets and recyclability on the one hand and strong commitments of our customers towards increasing the share of recycled material in their offerings on the other hand. Solving these challenges requires innovation and joint efforts globally across the value chain. BASF will contribute to tackling this by developing innovative technologies 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. The oil is fed this into BASF’s Verbund production at the beginning of the value chain, thereby saving fossil resources. Based on the mass balance approach, the share of recycled material is allocated to the product by a third-party audited methodology. The result: Certified products which 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.

As the project focuses on plastic waste for which no high-value recycling processes are established yet, ChemCycling™ is complementary to mechanical recycling. Examples of waste plastics which are difficult to recycle mechanically include mixed plastic waste, plastics with residues or multi-layer food packaging. 

Facts about ChemCycling™

  • Complementary: While large volumes of sorted single-stream plastics can and should be recycled mechanically, chemical recycling can process, for example, mixed plastic waste streams for which it may be impossible or very inefficient to sort them for a high-value mechanical recycling. With pyrolysis, about 70% of mixed plastic waste can be converted into secondary raw materials.
  • Virgin quality: 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 production system 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.
  • Solution oriented: Chemical recycling is an end-of-life option for high-performance plastics, e.g. multi-layer packaging. Redesigning plastic products and packaging with an aim to make them mechanically recyclable is not always possible or desirable if this would e.g. lower performance or increase waste volumes.
  • Certified transparently: Both the mass balance procedure, by which the proportion of recycled raw material is allocated to the product, and the products themselves are certified by independent auditors. 

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. In 2020, first commercial products were launched by customers in the German market.

Video: ChemCycling – first prototypes

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We have established partnerships with Quantafuel, Pyrum and New Energy. Quantafuel is a specialist for pyrolysis of mixed plastic waste and purification of the resulting oil, Pyrum and New Energy are specialized in the pyrolysis of end-of-life tires. BASF will use the pyrolysis oil from end-of-life tires as an additional raw material source next to oil from mixed plastic waste, the use of which is the long-term focus of the ChemCycling™ project. 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. 

The ChemCycling™ circle