Time to read: 6 minutes

Understanding the primary recycling methods

Recycling innovations happen every day

Designers are creating products with the potential to be recycled in mind, and right now they are uncovering a variety of new solutions to increase recyclability and transform the end-of-life process.

Marta Clavero
IMCD Spain





What's next for recyclability?

Click below to find out the answer

Mechanical recycling 

Mechanical recycling of plastics is a process that involves recycling plastics waste into raw materials without significantly changing its chemical structure. In Europe, mechanical recycling currently makes up 99 percent of all recycling processes. Plastics that cannot be mechanically recycled may be a valuable resource for feedstock/chemical recycling or energy recovery.

The ideal waste for mechanical recycling is plastic waste streams that produce one type of plastic in a large quantity. A single type of clean plastic yields greater environmental and financial benefits, especially when factoring in the costs required to collect, sort and transport multiple types.

Chemical recycling

Chemical recycling involves changing the chemical structure of plastic waste to break it down into smaller molecules so it can be used for new chemical reactions. It contributes to sustainability as it prevents certain plastic waste from going to a landfill when it is unable to be mechanically recycled.

Laminated and composite plastics, low-quality mixed plastics and contaminated plastics are a few examples of plastics that could be candidates for chemical recycling.

Energy recovery recycling

For some plastics, energy recovery is the most resource-efficient form of recycling and an alternative when waste cannot be sustainably recycled. Energy recycling combines plastic waste with other materials to produce energy for power plants and related industries. Energy recovery processes use technology to ensure they are as efficient and environmentally responsible as possible.

Energy recovery processes can be versatile. It can convert solid waste into many different types of energy including steam, power, chemicals, substitute natural gas, crude oil and transportation fuels.

Frequently asked questions

Gasification, pyrolysis and depolymerisation are examples of processes used to break down plastic waste. The result is gases, liquids and/or semi-liquids that can be used to create new products or reactions.

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