Could pyrolysis be the solution to plastic pollution
Velsen, Vera van
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Plastics have become a relentless boundary-crossing threat to the ecosystem and human health. Without improvements to managing waste beyond what is already in place today, 99 million tons of uncontrolled plastic waste would end up in the environment by 2030. The existing plastic industry is locked into an unsustainable linear production and consumption model; thus, a comprehensive new approach is necessary. The European Union decided to use the concept of a circular economy, whereby plastic waste is recycled into new packaging through a chemical recycling process called pyrolysis. The technology behind pyrolysis is researched and documented, but food-grade recycled polyolefins is a recent development. Creating these food-grade recycled polyolefins requires a new network and system of which the dynamics, interactions, barriers, and enablers are unknown. The technological innovation system, using the system elements and functions provided by Hekkert et al. (2007), was used to get insight into the previously mentioned points. Using an event analysis and key actor interviews, a cohesive narrative was formed showing the fulfilment of the different system functions and shedding light on the barriers and enablers. Six barriers could hold back the diffusion of pyrolysis within the European Union. 1) Acceptance within the EU waste framework directive by providing study results that show the potential and sustainability of pyrolysis to the European commission and continue with the lobby work already being done. 2) The high resin costs of pyrolysis could be lowered by scaling up or governmental intervention to level the playing field. 3) Difficulties of scaling up an entire pyrolysis system by investing and innovating the entire process. 4) The location of new plants by collaboratively choosing to work on a local or international level. 5) The possible competition between mechanical and chemical recycling by governmental intervention on the prioritisation and waste resources. The last barrier 6) is consumer acceptance of chemical recycled plastic packaging products through an industry standard-setting on the wording to communicate to the public. So to conclude, the technological innovation system surrounding pyrolysis has grown into a strong network with much legitimacy, but to continue to grow, it needs to overcome the barriers. Nevertheless, this thesis suggests that the enablers are in reach, and the future could be bright.