Chemical recycling for plastic packaging to reach 109,200 tonnes by 2027 worldwide, after growing at 6.0% CAGR from 81,450 tonnes in 2023; chemical, mechanical recycling to produce 43.3 million tonnes of material by 2027 from 35.7 million tonnes in 2023

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AKRON, Ohio , April 19, 2023 (press release) –

Mechanical and chemical (advanced) recycling have central roles in transitioning the global plastics industry to a circular economy model. For both chemical and mechanical recycling, packaging is a core market, and the latest exclusive data from Smithers forecasts that combined, chemical and mechanical recycling will produce a total of 35.7 million tonnes of material in 2023.

Despite billions of dollars of investment, chemical recycling of plastics is still at a pilot-scale, but the enthusiasm for this technology means the situation will change quickly. Data from its latest in-depth market study, The Future of Mechanical vs Chemical Recycling to 2027, allows Smithers to reveal that chemical recycling of plastics in packaging will increase from 81,450 tonnes in 2023 to 109,200 tonnes in 2027 worldwide, representative of a 6.0% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

Mechanical recycling has pioneered the supply of recovered plastics, as it has a lower capital expenditure cost and is less technically demanding. Recycled inputs can be blended at different percentages with virgin stocks to match the performance of 100% virgin plastics. However, this requires efficient sorting, and chemical recycling is better positioned to process mixed polymer waste. Chemical recycling can render such wastes down to their base monomer that are chemically identical to petroleum-derived inputs – although it is not as energy efficient as mechanical processes due the energy used in pyrolysis, gasification, or other technology platforms.

The two are mutually complimentary; and the market for mechanically recycled resins is far from saturated. In packaging, Smithers forecasts that across 2023, mechanical recycling of major packaging polymers (PET, PP, HDPE, LDPE, LLDPE, PS, Other), will continue to dominate supply. This steam will increase from 35.6 million tonnes to reach 43.3 million tonnes in 2027; equivalent to a CAGR of 5.0%.

As the infrastructure for both evolves, the main potential for chemical recycling is to supplement mechanical recycling channels. Smithers analysis identifies how and where chemical recycling can overcome the difficulties with material performance and processing to greatly expand the range of sustainable polymer feedstocks available.

Smithers’ detailed market survey also for the first time, quantifies the demand for recycled plastics and non-tire elastomers in automotive manufacturing. Different dynamics operate in this market, including strict recycling rules for old vehicles in Europe, efficient and well organised mechanical recycling systems for auto parts, and the higher unit value of engineering plastics.

In 2023, recycling of plastics and elastomers in automotive applications will be a projected 21.61 million tonnes, with the market set to grow at a CAGR of 5.9% to 2027. As global auto production recovers from the disruption of Covid-19, and invests in performance materials sets to showcase its commitment to a greener future, this figure will reach 26.58 million tonnes, in that year. In vehicle manufacturing the main recycled plastic type is polypropylene, followed by polyamides (nylons), thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs), and natural rubber.

Auto manufacturing is also moving to embrace the potential of chemical recycling, although this is at an early phase. Smithers forecasts volumes will almost quadruple over the next four years, from a low base of 8,400 tonnes in 2023, to 40,200 tonnes in 2027.

The current supply and future market outlook for both chemical and mechanically recycled plastics is examined and quantified in the new Smithers study – The Future of Mechanical vs Chemical Recycling to 2028. Its exclusive data is supported by expert analysis of the latest technologies, regulatory drivers, and the global business environment, in both packaging and automotive manufacturing.

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