Supporting the transformation of the society towards a sustainable, resource efficient and carbon neutral economy
The current set-up of the chemical industry is still heavily based on fossil resources. While the switch to selected circular approaches might be easy to realize, creating a real circular economy is a paradigm change that requires huge efforts from all involved stakeholders.
In a circular world, the industry will have to rethink well established processes to move from a linear take-make-use-dispose approach to a circular approach. The chemical industry is in the middle of long value chains. Today it gains its resources from the oil and gas industry, the mining industry and in parts from the agricultural sector. Raw materials are converted to basic chemicals and intermediates which then become functional chemicals like additives or materials. OEMs produce parts or final goods out of this materials which are used (and serve a purpose) and finally end-up as waste.
As a leading chemicals company we believe that the circular economy is about more than just recycling - it is about a transformation of the entire value creation system to become a sustainable and carbon neutral society.
This involves the entire product life cycle and can only happen in close cooperation in value networks, starting with the input of raw materials and ending with a resource efficient and environmentally friendly recycling mechanism for products. The Chemical Industry will be a strong enabler of circular solutions – in particular by chemical recycling of goods.
Chemical recycling - the conversion of waste into raw materials - is an important approach to addressing resource efficiency and avoiding emissions by returning waste to the value chain. Chemical recycling breaks down e.g. plastic waste into basic chemicals that can be used as virgin raw material for the manufacture of new products. Plastics in particular, most of which are based on fossil fuels, offer an important starting point for chemical recycling. LANXESS is currently exploring methods regarding chemical recycling.
LANXESS is actively supporting the transition of of the entire value creation systems towards a sustainable, carbon neutral and resource efficient society with its products and climate action such as our “Climate Neutral 2040” initiative. We believe that the circular economy, which includes a complete life-cycle approach is a key component of achieving a successful transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy for Europe as well as contributing to meeting the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Additionally, LANXESS is committed to preventing the leakage of plastics into the environment. This is why we signed up to Operation Clean Sweep.
As a member of PlasticsEurope, LANXESS has also signed the voluntary commitment "Plastics 2030". Plastics 2030 aims to:
- Prevent leakage of plastics into the environment by increasing engagement inside and outside our industry
- Improve resource efficiency by accelerating innovation in the full life cycle of product
- Improve circularity of plastics packaging by reaching in 2040 100 % reuse, recycling and/or recovery of all plastics packaging in the whole EU (60 % by 2030).
Different stages of circularity and the role of chemical recycling
Reuse and repair
Consumer goods or even chemicals (e.g. solvents) can be leased and reused. Many new business models like reuse of food packaging are currently under development.
Mechanical decomposition without changing the chemical structure of the material. Mechanical recycling has been applied for long time and includes collection, separation, grinding, melting, sorting, washing or filtering. The challenge why it is not suitable in every case is the degradation of the material during life-time, mainly through oxidation. In addition, only clean and sorted plastics are fit for mechanical recycling.
Chemical recycling is expected to play a major role in a circular economy. The general interest of chemical recycling is to gain monomers or petrochemical feedstock and make unsorted waste streams valuable for the chemical industry again. With different methods, the material is broken down into chemical building blocks. Methods include:
- Depolymerization: Conversion of macromolecules into their constituent parts - monomers. The value of the monomers is maintained.
- Pyrolysis is the process of light thermal degradation - the polymer is split into monomers and often back into basic chemicals. It is feasible for unsorted and contaminated waste streams. The output material can be used as feedstock for chemical value chains again.
- Gasification is the process of heavy thermal degradation. It is suited for unsorted, even highly contaminated waste streams. Organic materials are converted into so-called syngas or light feedstock. Gasification enables the production of chemical materials back from the scratch.
Chemical recycling can process waste that is too complex or too contaminated for mechanical recycling.
LANXESS products are sold almost exclusively to industrial customers. Only they or customers even further downstream use them to produce end products for a wide range of markets. With regard to completing cycles, this means that there are sometimes very long periods between production and the end of our products’ lifecycles. As a first step, we are therefore focusing on what we as a company can control: We are working to ensure the “recyclability” of all our products so that they are suitable for environmentally friendly recycling. In order to understand which “recyclability” requirements to impose on our products, it is important to analyze the function of our molecules in their final use and in which cycles (biological or technical) they circulate.