Turning used plastic back into new plastic via chemical recycling can cut greenhouse gas emissions and increase the U.S. recycling rate.
While that may sound like a straightforward statement the plastics industry would publish, in this case it's the finding of a peer-reviewed life cycle analysis by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, appearing in the November 2023 issue of Journal of Cleaner Production.
The study is the first analysis of multiple U.S. facilities taking post-use plastics all the way to new plastics again, Argonne officials said in a news release.
The study used data from eight companies between 2017 and 2021. It showed a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of 18 percent to 23 percent even when only 5 percent of the feedstock came from pyrolysis when compared with virgin low density polyethylene and high density PE.
"As advanced recycling becomes increasingly efficient, it is poised to play a major role in achieving global sustainability goals by reducing waste and GHG emissions," Pahola Thathiana Benavides, Argonne principal energy systems analyst and a study author, said.
The study did not get into the advantages (or disadvantages) of chemical vs. mechanical recycling. But previously, Maranda Demuth, government affairs strategic initiatives manager for Eastman Chemical Co. — which has chemical recycling operations — noted that mechanical recycling is preferred in many situations because it has a lower environmental impact, but chemical recycling is needed with hard-to-recycle plastics.