Speaker insights from Unilever

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About Chemical Recycling 

Ahead of the Chemical Recycling conference we took the opportunity to gather industry insights from our speakers.

We spoke to them about the lessons learned through chemical recycling, EU legislation, challenges, common misconceptions and what they will be speaking about at the Chemical Recycling conference in September.  

27 -28  September 2021

Düsseldorf, Germany


Dr. Colin Kerr
Packaging Technology Director

AMI’s Chemical Recycling 2021 Conference will address the various challenges and opportunities in the chemical recycling market and bring together experts from across the supply chain to discuss the latest trends and developments in this dynamic market.

Key areas of focus include global market trends, the variety of technologies, outputs and processes available, and how the industry can work together to integrate chemical recycling into the waste hierarchy as a viable process on an industrial scale. This conference will be a fantastic opportunity to engage with key industry players at an event that encourages discussion, debate and ideas sharing.

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Dr. Colin Kerr
Packaging Technology Director

End-to-End value chain collaboration to enable chemical recycling  

What is the most important lesson you have learned through your work on chemical recycling? 

Chemical recycling has the potential to be a very important enabler to improving the level of recycling that takes place in many markets, as it can be a complementary solution to mechanical recycling, using hard-to-recycle materials as the input feedstock, which cannot be handled in current mechanical recycling facilities, and would otherwise end up in incineration. Through this approach, it can unlock greater access to food grade, virgin-like quality materials for further use within packaging applications where mechanical PCR use is not possible.

How does EU legislation support or hinder the development of chemical recycling technologies? 

We need policy solutions that help create the right enabling environment to realise our collective ambitions. Chemical recycling will only develop as a new sector if there is sufficient clarity on the legislative landscape into the future, so that the necessary investments can confidently be made by the various players in the value chain, to establish solutions at scale. This will require it to be accepted as a valid form of recycling and that it can contribute to recycling targets, as part of a suite of solutions. In addition, it will be critical to have legislative support to have authorisation of the use of recycled plastic from this route, for food contact use and, more generally, the recognition of new recycling technologies as they evolve.

What challenges remain to developing chemical recycling at scale?

There are several challenges that still need to be overcome, to develop solutions at scale. I would highlight 4 in particular.

  • Investments need to be made to develop larger output pyrolysis oil facilities, as this is a key bottleneck currently.
  • The technology needs to focus on maximising its yields for plastic waste to recycled materials or chemicals applications, and not be used as a waste-to-fuel approach.
  • There is a need to ensure that the environmental impact is lower than that of fossil-fuel derived virgin material
  • There needs to be confidence that there are end-market applications for the materials to support the investment decisions. This is very dependent on there being a clear view on the acceptability of the economics of the process and its output

What common misconceptions do people have about advanced / chemical recycling? How can these be addressed?

Chemical recycling is sometimes positioned as the solution for all plastics challenges. This is certainly not the case, as there needs to be a holistic approach. Eco-design, reduction, driving collection infrastructure, improving sorting and recycling capacity and establishing new recycling capabilities like chemical recycling are all crucial elements to create a circular economy for plastic.

You will be speaking at the Chemical Recycling Conference 2021, could you give us a little preview on what you will be talking about?

The focus for my talk at the conference will be on how Unilever sees the role of chemical recycling in supporting its future agenda and around the fact that no individual company can transform this industry alone. There is a real need for companies across the value chain to come together, in order to collectively address the outstanding questions and build joint confidence and commitment in its future trajectory. We will need to collaboratively develop ways to enable the technology to reach industrial scale and this requires engagement from many different groups.