Mixed plastic waste is very difficult or impossible to recycle mechanically. As part of the ChemCycling™ project, BASF is working with partners on innovative recycling technologies and their implementation on a commercial scale to enable these resources to be fed back into the system in the future, too.
Plastics are part of modern life. Whether in clothing or shoes, in mattresses or furniture, in smartphones or cars, in medicine or construction – they are used in almost all areas of life because of their beneficial properties. But plastics also come with challenges: Only 20% of the approximately 250 million metric tons of plastic waste generated worldwide each year is currently recycled. At BASF, we are working to increase this number.
Plastics are an important part of our product portfolio. This includes engineering plastics, polyurethanes, biopolymers and styrene foams. Our products are mostly used in durable and demanding applications, such as automotive engineering, medical technology, electronics and electrical engineering, and building insulation.
As a responsible player in the value chain, we want to further improve the sustainability performance of plastics throughout the entire life cycle – from the production and use of renewable and recycled raw materials through the use phase, where innovative plastic materials ensure greater sustainability in areas such as mobility, construction or energy, to the handing of plastics at the end of their life.
For many years, we have been conducting research into soil-biodegradable and compostable plastics and their biodegradability in different environments. With ecoflex® and ecovio®, BASF has two certified bioplastics on the market that can biodegrade under the conditions in the recognized standards according to which they are certified.
At the same time, we are developing solutions for improving mechanically recycled plastics. These include additives that extend the useful life of plastics and help address the quality problems of recycled materials. BASF additives extend the lifetime of plastic articles and are key to keeping plastics in circulation for not just one but several cycles. Technical solutions from BASF, such as NIR spectroscopy or sustainable cleaning solutions, help to separate and then process different types of plastics.
Since not all waste streams are suitable for mechanical recycling, BASF is also driving forward the chemical recycling of plastics as a complementary technology. In this process, plastics are broken down into their building blocks using various methods, which can then be used again in production as recycled feedstocks.
We are involved in numerous initiatives to advance new ideas together with partners. For example, BASF is a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), which is active in four focus areas: developing infrastructure for waste collection, promoting innovative recycling methods, education and engagement of various stakeholders, and cleanup of areas heavily impacted by plastic waste. The initiative aims to invest up to $1.5 billion by 2023. Further examples of our commitment to greater sustainability in the plastics value chain include the World Plastics Council, Operation Clean Sweep and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.