Confusion about terminology and definitions for plastic waste recycling. Open- and closed loop mechanical and chemical recycling

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CTO at Avantium and Professor of Industrial Sustainable Chemistry at the University of Amsterdam

Climate change and (micro) plastic pollution have become the number 1 concern for citizens in several countries, such as the Netherlands (1). Although for energy, we are making serious progress in the transition to renewable energy, for (plastic) materials we have hardly started this transition (2). Consumer research has shown a great willingness of consumers to contribute to a transition to more sustainable plastic packaging (3) but at the same time there is a lot of confusion about topics such as bio-based, bio-degradation and recycling. In my last column in Chemistry Today (4), I addressed the fact that the general public assumes that bio-based polymers are biodegradable and I explained that these terms are completely disconnected.


In this column I will discuss the confusion that exists not only among citizens but also with policy makers about recycling. Hardly anyone realizes that almost all recycling is open-loop recycling. If we take packaging waste as an example, open-loop recycling means that the recycled product is not entering same packaging application again and that increased packaging recycling volumes will not result in reduced feedstock dema ...