Non-Mechanical Recycling of Plastic

23rd October 2019

This report details a high level market study into non-mechanical recycling technologies. The various non-mechanical recycling technologies described in this report can be grouped into four main categories:

  1. Pyrolysis (also being referred to as “feedstock” recycling) 
  2. Gasification
  3. Chemical depolymerisation
  4. Dissolution

WRAP has carried out a high-level market study into non-mechanical recycling technologies. This is to help progress the UK Plastics Pact roadmap, as non-mechanical technologies may be vital in achieving not only the 70% effective recycling rate but also enabling the average 30% recycled content of packaging. There are several companies developing alternatives to conventional mechanical recycling, to allow for greater recycling rates and to achieve higher quality outputs.

Non-mechanical recycling, often referred to as “Chemical Recycling”, can be broadly grouped into the following categories:

  1. Pyrolysis – This is the thermal breakdown of material without oxygen, resulting in a range of hydrocarbon products including wax, oil and gas. The gas is often burnt to provide energy to the process, whereas the oil and wax can be sold.
  2. Gasification – This is the partial combustion of material to produce carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2), which is a mixture known as SynGas. This gas can be burnt for energy or used in the production of new hydrocarbons.
  3. Chemical depolymerisation – The use of chemicals to break down a polymer into its monomers or intermediate units.
  4. Dissolution – Polymers are dissolved in a selected solvent so the polymer can be separated from any contamination before being precipitated back out and re-used as a polymer. Dissolution does not affect the chemical composition of the polymer. A combination of desk-based studies and interviews has been used to determine the landscape for non-mechanical recycling technologies. 

A combination of desk-based studies and interviews has been used to determine the landscape for non-mechanical recycling technologies.