Broadcast on 12 August 2021, this is the second in a series of free events throughout 2021 developed by the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Science Policy Unit, exploring current issues around plastic production, use, reuse and disposal.

The plastic waste problem is at a critical point, and while plastics are a useful material in many applications, we need to find ways to live with them without creating environmental harm. Once a plastic has been reused and it at the end of its useful life, it comes the time for recycling. But how best to retain value in our materials?

Mechanical recycling currently makes up about 99% of the plastic recycling taking place across Europe. If perfectly utilised mechanical recycling can be a very effective way of turning end of life plastic products into new plastics. However, with mixed or contaminated waste streams an undesirable product is produced, and ‘downcycling’ can occur.

Chemical recycling has been touted as a solution to some of the limitations of mechanical recycling and can deal with some of the ‘problem plastics’ not easily recycled with conventional means.

‘Chemical recycling’ is actually an umbrella term covering several technologies which break apart polymer chains and produce a product further away from a finished plastic. Some of these processes are highly selective, and some use high temperatures to indiscriminately ‘crack’ polymer chains into a mixed product.

But chemical recycling is not yet available at scale, and there are some concerns over the amount of energy it uses. So, is chemical recycling worth the energy?

Our speakers discuss:

  • What mechanical recycling is, and how it can be optimised
  • The technologies known as ‘chemical recycling’, their potential applications and hurdles still to overcome
  • What a future recycling system might look like, and how we can get there

Sam Hill, Brightgreen Plastics

Speaker: Sam Hill

Sam Hill is the head of technical and quality at Bright Green Plastics. and has been with the business since 2019. Recycling in excess of 30 thousand tons of plastics, Bright Green Plastics are outward facing, open to opportunities to collaborate with partners from industry to academia to improve the recycling and uptake of recycled poypropylene and polyethylene.

Prior to working in the recycling industry Sam worked in the formulation and process development of flexible PVC materials for the automotive industry. Sam holds a MChem in chemistry from the University of Huddersfield and a PhD from the Department of Colour and Polymer Science, University of Leeds, studying electrically conductive polymers and their uses in inks.

Ina Vollmer, Utrecht University

Speaker: Ina Vollmer

Ina Vollmer graduated with a MSc.E.P in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US). In 2019, she completed her doctorate research on methane dehydroaromatization in the Catalysis Engineering group at Delft University of Technology after which she went on to Utrecht University (The Netherlands), where she surveyed the research progress of chemical recycling of plastics and is currently investigating the reaction mechanism of chemical recycling processes to develop new reaction pathways and processes at the Institute of Sustainable and Circular Chemistry.

Royal Society of Chemistry logo

Chemistry World and the Science Policy Unit at the Royal Society of Chemistry are proud to offer this series of webinars to promote scientific debate around particular areas of plastics.  

The Science Policy Unit sits within the Policy and Evidence team, coordinating programmes around sustainability and health. We aim to improve the quality of scientific evidence in policy making, and show the positive impact of chemistry in solving global challenges.