In recent years, the push towards sustainability has become a focal point for industries and consumers alike. This shift is particularly evident in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) sector, where companies are increasingly committing to reducing the environmental impact of their products.

A significant aspect of these sustainability efforts is the adoption of advanced recycling technologies, which complement the traditional mechanical recycling methods that have been dominant for the last three decades.

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Advanced recycling: opportunities for growth

The demand for recycled plastics is surging, driven by heightened consumer awareness, corporate sustainability pledges, and stringent regulations. Traditional mechanical recycling processes, which involve washing, shredding, and pelletizing plastic waste, have been the standard.

However, they are limited by the quality of the input materials and the properties of the output, which may not be suitable for all applications.

Advanced recycling, on the other hand, offers a promising solution by breaking down plastics into their molecular components. These technologies enable the recycling of a broader range of plastic materials, including those unsuitable for mechanical recycling due to contamination or material properties.

The output of advanced recycling can be tailored for high-value applications, such as flexible food packaging, effectively closing the loop in the circular economy.

However, despite its potential, advanced recycling is still in its infancy, with challenges such as limited capacity and uncertain financial returns.

To fully realise its potential, there needs to be significant investment in technology development and scaling, infrastructure build-out, and the establishment of robust end-to-end partnerships.

Must-win battles for advanced recycling

For advanced recycling to take a central role in the future of sustainable materials management, several key areas need to be addressed:

  1. Technology and infrastructure: The scale-up of advanced recycling technologies requires ongoing innovation and significant capital investment. The development of more efficient and cost-effective processes will be crucial to increase capacity and reduce the reliance on virgin plastics.
  2. Feedstock availability: A consistent and sufficient supply of recyclable materials is essential. This can be achieved through improved waste collection and sorting infrastructures, which are critical to ensure the quality and quantity of feedstock for advanced recycling processes.
  3. Partnerships and investment: Strengthening the recycling value chain through partnerships across industries — from waste management to consumer goods manufacturers — is vital. These collaborations can help align technological advancements with market needs and ensure the economic viability of recycling initiatives.

Scaling up to meet demand

As the demand for sustainable materials continues to grow, advanced recycling technologies are poised to play a crucial role in meeting these needs.

By enabling the recycling of more diverse types of plastics and producing high-quality recycled materials, advanced recycling can help reduce the environmental footprint of plastic products significantly.

Investments in this area are expected to increase, with projections suggesting that advanced recycling could satisfy 4-8% of total polymer demand by 2030.

This growth will not only help in reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills but also in cutting down greenhouse gas emissions associated with traditional plastic production and disposal methods.

The journey towards a more sustainable future is complex and challenging.

However, with continued innovation and collaboration across sectors, advanced recycling technologies hold the promise of transforming our approach to plastic waste and contributing significantly to the development of a circular economy.

As we move forward, the focus will be on overcoming the technological, logistical, and financial challenges that currently limit the widespread adoption of these groundbreaking recycling methods.