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Advanced recycling turns used plastic into a resource. Here’s how it works and how it can reduce plastic waste.

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  • Advanced technologies can recycle used plastic that traditional recycling can’t process.
  • Thanks to advanced recycling, consumer food and pharmaceutical brands can now use packaging made with recycled plastic.
  • These technologies are helping create a circular economy for plastic, in which plastic is reused instead of discarded, helping to significantly decrease waste.

There’s a recycling world out there that many of us have never heard of. It’s called advanced recycling, and it recycles plastic that traditional methods cannot.

With advanced recycling, these used plastics can be converted into new products, which helps keep them out of the waste stream. Advanced recycling will help create a circular economy for plastic, in which plastic is reused instead of discarded.

While advanced recycling will become increasingly prevalent in the future, it’s already underway. From entrepreneurs to major materials manufacturers, more and more companies are investing in these technologies. And whether they know it or not, many consumers are buying products and packaging in which advanced plastic recycling has played a role.

For example, plastic made from advanced recycling is being used to manufacture plastic containers and water bottles, tubs for cream cheese, and water bottles from Nalgene. Wendy’s recently announced that it will soon use plastic made from advanced recycling in its drink cups.

How advanced recycling is different from traditional recycling

Consumers are used to traditional (mechanical) recycling, which involves sorting plastic, chopping it into small pieces, melting it down, and using it in new products like bottles, fleece jackets, and carpeting.

But some plastics cannot be mechanically recycled. These are the plastics that are ideal for the advanced recycling solution. Advanced recycling is complementary to mechanical recycling, capable of recycling more types and amounts of plastics, leading to reuse of more plastic and less waste.

Advanced recycling refers to a suite of technologies that break down plastic into usable building blocks. These building blocks are as good as the building blocks used to make new plastics and can be used by manufacturers to create new products, such as new plastics for food-grade and medical-grade packaging, something where mechanical recycling faces greater challenges.

Advanced recycling is gaining steam and has huge potential. Over the past few years, multiple advanced recycling initiatives have been announced in the US which have the potential to collectively divert at least 11.2 billion pounds of plastic from landfills annually, according to the American Chemistry Council.

“We see the role advanced recycling plays in the current recycling mix as crucial and complementary to other recycling routes as it can capture value from plastic waste streams that have traditionally been ignored or discarded,” said Mark Vester, global circular economy leader at SABIC, which produces plastic from advanced recycling.

Companies contribute to a circular economy for plastics

Brand owners are increasingly paying more attention to their environmental footprint, seeking to be better caretakers of the planet. Advanced recycling can help these brands achieve their ambitious sustainability goals and create more opportunities for packaging manufacturers to access more recycled plastic for a wider variety of end-use applications.

For example, Mondelez partnered with Berry Global, a company that designs packaging for circularity and manufactures Philadelphia Cream Cheese tubs using food-grade plastic made from advanced recycling. And Berry is also working with Wendy’s to create plastic drink cups using plastic made from advanced recycling, which could divert at least 10 million pounds of used plastic from landfills over the next two years.

A woman stacks plastic cups in a manufacturing factory that are made of recycled plastic.
Berry Global is producing plastic cups made with reused plastic for Wendy’s.

In 2019, Berry committed to the goal that 100% of its consumer goods packaging would be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

“None of our sustainable packaging commitments are achievable without close partnership with our customers and brand owners and access to the latest resin materials that help everyone across the value chain unlock the potential of a circular economy,” said Robert Flores, vice president of sustainability for Berry Global. “Achieving these bold goals just really wasn’t possible before advanced recycling. The technology itself, just the fact that it came on board, is what’s going to allow us to meet that goal.”

Vester shared that SABIC is working with numerous brands to incorporate advanced recycling plastic in packaging. For example, a project announced in November 2020 with Sealed Air, Plastic Energy, and UK retailer Tesco, demonstrated that they could recycle flexible plastic into food-grade packaging.

“We have already helped a number of leading brand owners to launch such consumer products in the last year, including Magnum and Knorr, both part of Unilever, Origins from Estée Lauder Companies, and Mars Incorporated,” he said.

Advanced recycling powers a more sustainable future

There is currently a greater demand for recycled plastics than supply. Much of this demand can only be met by advanced recycling, based on the products and processes we have available today. Fortunately, supply capabilities are ramping up to meet that demand, as the technologies improve and become more widespread.

Advanced recycling significantly increases the types and amounts of plastic suitable for recycling, while making it possible to use recycled plastic in new products and packaging, like plastics approved for use in food-contact and pharmaceutical applications.

This results in higher overall recycling rates and less waste going into landfills and the ocean. And it helps create a greater opportunity to create a truly circular economy for plastic.

Learn more about the impact of advanced recycling here.

This post was created by Insider Studios with American Chemistry Council.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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