The critical role of process analysis in chemical recycling and upcycling of waste plastics
There is an urgent need for new technologies to enable circularity for synthetic polymers, spurred by the accumulation of waste plastics in landfills and the environment and the contributions of plastics manufacturing to climate change. Chemical recycling is a promising means to convert waste plastics into molecular intermediates that can be remanufactured into new products. Given the growing interest in the development of new chemical recycling approaches, it is critical to evaluate the economics, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and other lifecycle inventory metrics for emerging processes, relative to the incumbent, linear manufacturing practices employed today. Here we offer specific definitions for classes of chemical recycling and upcycling and describe general process concepts for the chemical recycling of mixed plastics waste. We present a framework for techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment for both closed- and open-loop chemical recycling. Rigorous application of these process analysis tools will be required to enable impactful solutions for the plastics waste problem.