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Techno-economic assessment of mechanical recycling of challenging post-consumer plastic packaging waste

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Increasing plastic recycling rates is crucial to tackle plastic pollution and reduce consumption of fossil resources. Recycling routes for post-consumer plastic fractions that are technologically and economically feasible remain a challenge. Profitable value chains for recycling mixed film and tray-like plastics have hardly been implemented today, in sharp contrast to recycling of relatively pure fractions such as polyethylene terephthalate and high-density polyethylene bottles. This study examines the economic feasibility of implementing mechanical recycling for plastic waste such as polypropylene, polystyrene, polyethylene films and mixed polyolefins. In most European countries these plastic fractions are usually incinerated or landfilled whilst in fact technologies exist to mechanically recycle them into regranulates or regrinds. Results show that the economic incentives for the recycling of plastic packaging depend predominantly on the product price and product yield. At current price levels, the most profitable plastic fraction to be recycled is PS rigids, with an internal rate of return of 14%, whereas the least profitable feed is a mixed polyolefin fraction with a negative internal rate of return in a scenario with steadily rising oil prices. Moreover, these values would be substantially reduced if oil prices, and therefore plastic product prices decrease. Considering a discount rate of 15% for a 15-year period, mechanical recycling is not profitable if no policy changes would be imposed by governments. Clearly low oil prices may jeopardize the mechanical recycling industry, inducing the need for policies that would increase the demand of recycled products such as imposing minimal recycled content targets.
Journal: Resources, Conservation & Recycling
ISSN: 0921-3449
Volume: 170
Pages: 1 - 13
Publication year:2021