Spain circular targets only possible with chemical recycling - Feique

Author: Jonathan Lopez


LONDON (ICIS)--Spain’s circular targets cannot be met without chemical recycling and it must be granted the same legal status than recycling in legislation currently being debated in Parliament, the country’s chemicals trade group Feique said on Wednesday.

Spain’s recycling rates could increase from the current 45% to 80-90% by 2050 if chemically recycled materials are granted status as recycled product, said Feique’s president.

Carles Navarro, also the director general at BASF’s operations in Spain and Portugal, added the plastics sector will continue lobbying against the tax on plastics the Spanish cabinet is mulling; the tax has been delayed to at least 2022.

Navarro presented on Wednesday FEIQUE’s optimistic forecasts for Spanish chemicals in 2021, with sales and exports expected to boom as Spain and the wider eurozone recover from the pandemic-induced downturn.

Plastics producers across the EU are lobbying for the 27-country bloc’s legislation to grant chemical recycling the same legal status as recycling, as the technology has shown great improvements in recent years, making it  commercially feasible.

Chemical recycling is an umbrella term for a variety of methods that use different production routes to create new material from waste; common chemical recycling methods include pyrolysis, gasification, glycolysis, hydrolysis, methanolysis, and enzymatic hydrolysis.

The European Commission had previously indicated that it would take a decision on chemical recycling’s legal status in 2021.

But while the EU’s executive arm comes up with its decision, some national parliaments are debating laws on recycling to adapt their frameworks to the many upcoming changes in line with the EU Green Deal.

In Spain, the law is currently being debated in the Congress’ committee on circular economy; last week, the industry won a battle as the two largest parties in that committee voted in favour of granting chemicals recycling the legal recycling status.

“Mechanical recycling does a big potential, but it would not be enough if we want to meet circularity targets. Currently, a lot of waste still ends in landfill or incineration plants: we could chemically recycle many more materials,” said Navarro.

“From those materials we could make new plastics, of the same quality – it is indispensable to grant chemical recycling the legal status it deserves. Only then we could increase recycling rates in Spain.”

There has been growing debate in the past year over how chemical recycling should be classified under the EU's Waste Framework Directive and whether it should count towards waste targets.

This would be significant because regulatory measures such as the EU’s €800/tonne plastics charge are based on reporting measures under the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.

In May, the European trade group PlasticsEurope said European producers are aiming to produce 3.4m tonnes/year of chemically recycled plastics by 2030, after investments of €7.2bn.

“Contrary to what many people may think, practically all plastics can be chemically recycled, that is why we need this technology to be recognised as the game changer it could be,” he said.

Navarro said the industry will continue lobbying to “delay as much as possible” the €450/tonne tax on plastics the Spanish government is aiming to implement; the tax is currently on hold and would not be implemented before 2022 at the earliest.

Italy has also delayed the implementation of the tax to 2022.

However, chemical recycling also plays a key role in this debate, because the industry is also lobbying for chemically recycled materials not to count as plastics and therefore be exempt from the tax.

“We know the tax on plastics is likely to pass at some point, but we think it is not reasonable. We will try to delay its implementation as much as possible. It demonises materials that are indispensable and the pandemic have showed how useful they are,” said Navarro.

Front page picture: An EU official at a press conference on the Circular Economy action plan; archive image 
Source: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock