By Adam Wozniak, senior manager of sustainability, AMCO Polymers

Plastics today exhibit remarkable versatility, as they can undergo both mechanical and chemical recycling, originating from bio-based and Bio-Attributed sources. These circular advancements highlight the pivotal role of plastics in addressing pressing environmental challenges of today. Plastics today present a prime opportunity to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions while reducing dependence on finite crude oil and natural gas resources throughout the entire lifecycle of plastic production and disposal.

On a global scale, our emphasis on sustainability is shifting from internal management efforts to external actions, particularly through Sustainable Solution Partnerships and Services. Plastics Distribution is poised to play a crucial role in reducing Scope 3 Carbon Emissions, leveraging technologies such as PCR, PIR, Bio-Attributed and Bio-Circular Mass Balance, Biopolymers and Advanced Molecular Recycled Solutions.

The current landscape provides solutions and the capability to navigate a pathway using sustainable recycled technologies in various plastics like Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene (PS) and PET. This extends to advanced engineered materials such as Nylon, Polycarbonate, PBT and Polyetherimide (PEI). The notable growth in the pursuit of sustainable design in recent years has paved the way for circular solutions across diverse industries, including consumer packaging, healthcare, electrical electronics, automotive and aerospace. Obtaining and firm understanding of the differences between existing and developing recycling technologies will be pivotal in meeting the demands of brand owners, legislation and consumers.

Consumer Sentiment, Legislation and Global Trends

Consumer sentiment, legislative developments and worldwide trends will continue to influence our strategies for achieving sustainability in the design and development of sustainable technologies. Understanding the sentiments of consumers and brand owners, in conjunction with understanding emerging legislation, underscores the necessity for recognizing the prevailing global trends toward sustainable products and incorporation of circular design. This recognition is crucial for sustaining profitability, securing financing and maintaining relevance in the ever-evolving global marketplace.

Surveys show that an overwhelming number of consumers indicated that they would be more likely to purchase a product if that product and its producing company is attempting to be sustainable. Apart from this declaration, consumers express apprehension about the repercussions of plastic pollution on both our oceans and land, recognizing its potential to alter our environments for subsequent generations. This concern is particularly evident in consumer attitudes towards single-use plastics, prompting most designers and brand owners to explore more resilient and reusable design options.

Designing for recyclability is paramount to maintaining a continuous, consistent feedstock and regeneration of advanced materials while moving away from a linear consumption of materials derived from finite fossil-based feedstocks that continue to overburden landfills. Collaboration in mono-material design will be necessary to advance recycling rates in North America and on a global scale. Mono-material design will lead to improved capabilities and expanded recyclability of products at a greater scale.

Where improved vapor and moisture transmission is required, it will be important to design with material in multilayer fashion (Considered to be hard to recycle or non-recyclable) that the materials chosen can be re-utilized through new advanced recycling technologies. For instance… incorporating multiple layers of PP, HDPE, MDPE, LDPE and Nylon 6… All of which can be recaptured through Pyrolysis, an advanced molecular recycling technology. Today design standards for various types of packaging and single use materials is needed to help improve mono-material and multi-layer packaging technologies that can continue in their functionality after consumer use through clean segregated mechanically recycled PCR and extended to infinite recycling cycles through advanced recycling technologies.

The path to sustainability becomes increasingly evident as we illuminate it, recognizing that allowing valuable resources to be consumed and lost in a linear manner is not only unacceptable but also wasteful of resources. Opting for the most efficient technologies becomes imperative as we adopt a transformative approach, encouraging us to reconsider how we design, produce, consume and dispose of the products we cherish.

In the pursuit of sustainable materials, joint ventures play a crucial role in reshaping the supply chain, fostering transparent circular traceability from grave to gate. Establishing a transparent chain of custody, supported by complementary technologies and partnerships, becomes paramount for complying with new legislation and forging a path toward sustainability goals.

Continuity in legislation is vital for achieving a significant impact and enhancing closed-loop circularity with recyclable materials. Empirical data underscores that Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation, coupled with incentivized Recycling Refunds (RR) for consumers, enhances recycling rates. The potential to further boost recycling rates and diminish the reliance on finite carbon-based fuels lies in integrating complementary technologies such as Advanced Recycling of polymers alongside Mechanical Recycling and Legislation.

Developing and understanding the differences between existing and emerging recycling technologies is crucial for reducing carbon emissions and contributing to the fight against global warming. Collaboration across all industry sectors is foundational to achieving this collective goal.

Understanding the Technologies 
Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR)

Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) polymers represent materials that have been discarded into waste streams, destined for landfills. They encompass consumer waste that has reached its end of life, either through curb-side recycling or direct disposal into standard waste collection systems. Among the most common recycled plastics are PET, PS, PE and PP. However, advancements have enabled the capture and utilization of other feedstocks such as PC, PVC, ABS and Nylon.

All PCR materials are not equal, varying in quality levels. Utilizing these materials necessitates a transformative approach, reconsidering how we design, produce, consume and dispose of goods. Quality disparities stem from limited natural availability, even when natural feedstocks are accessible. Such resources may be scarce and display variable colors, posing challenges in maintaining tight color tolerances. Consequently, most PCR products adopt dark or black colors for consistency. Additionally, PCR materials typically exhibit lower physical properties compared to prime materials due to multiple heat histories.

The demand for PCR is surging, driven by impending legislation mandating minimum recycled content in packaging and single-use products. Blending PCR with virgin materials can enhance consistency, processability and color. However, there exists a cost-quality relationship, where higher costs correlate with improved properties, traceability and regulatory compliance.

To address these challenges, new technologies are emerging to refresh and purify PCR materials, ensuring FDA compliance and Letters of No Objection (LNOs). The North American PCR Supply Chain is poised for improvement with Extended Producer Responsibility legislation, catalyzing investment in recycling technologies and innovation.

PCR stands out as the most comprehensively understood plastic recycling technology, as evidenced by legislation directly referencing it. It must serve as the primary consideration in transformative design, offering significant potential for carbon reduction and achieving full-scale circularity in plastics.

However, mechanical recycling has its limitations, including reduced physical properties, color discrepancies, regulatory compliance issues and a finite number of recycling cycles (typically five to seven times) before crucial properties are lost due to heat history. Complementary Advanced Molecular Recycling technologies can extend recycling potential infinitely, compensating for property degradation incurred through repetitive recycling loops. This concept will be described further in the upcoming segment focused on understanding advanced recycling technologies.

Post-Industrial Recycled Materials (Mechanically Recycled)

Post-Industrial Recycled (PIR) plastics refer to materials that have reached the end of their usefulness at a pre-consumer industrial level, rendering them unsuitable for their original purpose. PIR materials can provide a reduced carbon footprint compared to virgin-based materials. However, their lack of inclusion in current legislative proposals stems from concerns regarding unknown factors, as well as issues surrounding transparency and traceability of feedstocks. PIR materials typically encompass production overruns, scrap, and products that do not conform to standards or regulations, originating from post-processing activities within industrial settings before reaching consumers.

Presently, PIR faces constraints concerning third-party certifications and Life Cycle Assessments when compared to prime materials. The absence of comprehensive transparency has impeded its integration into state and national policies. Unlike PCR, PIR materials boast enhanced physical properties, increased natural availability, partial FDA compliance and improved consistency in the supply chain. While PIR is advocated for its potential cost savings in comparison to prime materials, it is burdened with significant limitations in terms of life cycle assessment, regulatory compliance and the circularity of materials, ultimately contributing to landfill waste.

It is essential to acknowledge the trade-offs between PIR and PCR, considering factors such as physical properties, transparency and legislative recognition. While PIR offers advantages in certain aspects, addressing its limitations is crucial for the adoption of a more sustainable and widely accepted approach to recycled materials. Efforts aimed at enhancing transparency, obtaining certifications and conducting comprehensive life cycle assessments can contribute to the adoption of PIR in sustainable practices.

Mass Balance Approach

Mass Balance Approach utilizes fossil, bio-attributed, bio-circular and advanced molecular recycled feedstocks that are mixed into standard production while being accounted for separately through ISCC+ Mass Balanced audited systems. This process creates demand for non-fossil feedstocks’ and maintains efficiency and emissions benefits of common large scale production technologies.

In the mass balance process “Green” Feedstocks are entered at the same phase as conventional feedstocks. Utilization of an alternative port is typically incorporated. Both the “green” and traditional feedstocks intermix through various levels of polymer production and are comingled in final finished materials. Because there is no molecular difference in the “green” feedstock versus the traditional it is impossible to tell the difference between the finished products shown in various FTIR scans of the two sources. This requires Mass Balance accounting to determine how much “sustainable material” has been utilized vs. traditional. Through Mass Balance segregated accounting we can then determine and build credits for accounted finished goods.

ISCC+ Certification requires systems to be in place that accurately account and track the feedstocks utilized to produce equal amounts of finished materials. The process is audited and certified by 3rd Party International Sustainability and Carbon Certification ISCC+.

Understanding Bio-Attributed, Bio-Circular and Bio-Based Polymers Technologies
Bio-attributed materials play a crucial role in advancing circularity and alleviating the reliance on finite fossil fuel-based crude oil and natural gas feedstocks. Offering a groundbreaking approach to sustainable materials, bio-attributed, bio-circular and bio-based polymers derive from environmentally friendly sources like cooking oil, methane, CTO (Tall Oil from wood waste) and landfill off-gas. Beyond demonstrating exceptional properties, these polymers not only meet but exceed regulatory specifications, ensuring comprehensive compliance. By allowing for increased integration of bio-attributed feedstocks, these polymers make a substantial contribution to reducing CO2 emissions.

Maintaining an identical chemical fingerprint to prime materials, these bio-attributed and bio-circular materials uphold performance and functionality standards. Their management under the ISCC+ third-party certification underscores a commitment to sustainability, providing consumers with a reliable and certified eco-friendly alternative crude and natural gas derived polymer materials.

While bio-attributed and bio-circular materials assist in minimizing waste of bio-based feedstocks, they do not directly derive feedstocks from post-consumer recycled waste plastics that have reached the end of their life in landfills. Nevertheless, a key advantage lies in the consistency, performance and molecular fingerprint of bio-attributed materials, allowing for their reintroduction into recycling systems without compatibility or processing losses.

Due to their identical molecular and physical characteristics to prime-virgin materials, these bio-attributed materials can be integrated into existing applications with minimal requalification. Both Bio-Attributed and Bio-Circular materials, along with advanced recycled technologies, employ Mass-Balance production, offering improved economies of scale. They utilize existing polymerization and production technologies that yield the highest overall efficiencies due to size and scale, further diminishing the demand on finite supplies of fossil-based feedstocks.

Understanding Advanced Molecular Technologies 

Advanced Molecular Recycling epitomizes a cutting-edge approach to sustainable waste management by harnessing circular mixed waste from both Post-Consumer and Pre-Consumer Recycled feedstocks. The primary technologies involved in Advanced Molecular Recycling encompass Pyrolysis, Gasification, Dissolution and Methanolysis (Depolymerization). These processes aim to dismantle complex polymers into their constituent monomers, facilitating the regeneration of high-quality materials. Most Advanced recycling technologies undergo ISCC+ certification, validating their adherence to stringent sustainability standards while maintaining properties identical to prime-virgin counterparts.

Advanced Recycling enables textile-to-textile, plastic-to-plastic, textile-to-plastic, and plastic-to-textile recycling, establishing a pathway for the recycling of “hard-to-recycle feedstocks” excluded from traditional recycling streams. These technologies have the potential to reduce the Carbon Footprint by 19% to 63% (Reference: Argon National Laboratories LCA study on Pyrolysis) in medium to high-capacity production.

The global capacity for Advanced Recycling is staged for significant growth by 2030. This substantial increase underscores the growing recognition of the potential benefits and demand for Advanced Recycling technologies in addressing plastic waste challenges and contributing to a more circular and sustainable future. Continued research, innovation and investment in these technologies are essential to unlock their full potential and drive positive environmental impact on a global scale.

Despite the immense potential of Advanced Molecular Recycling, it is crucial to acknowledge that these technologies are still in the early stages of development. Challenges such as optimizing efficiency, scalability and economic viability remain areas of active exploration and improvement.

While many states recognize Advanced Recycling (AR) as an acceptable source of recycled content, some legislation excludes its utilization due to categorization as “thermal destruction facilities.” Outputs from pyrolysis and gasification are not universally considered post-consumer recycled content by several agencies. However, feedstocks from other advanced recycling technologies like solvolysis, dissolution, methanolysis/depolymerization, may be submitted for review to various legislations for consideration, especially for plastics-to-plastics applications (excluding plastics-to-fuel).

Key takeaways from Advanced Recycling (AR) are that there is no physical property loss compared to prime-virgin materials. Both AR and Bio-Attributed materials offer outstanding sustainable solutions for critical applications where mechanical properties and regulatory compliance are paramount. The choice between the two must be correlated with internal ESG marketing statements and linked to goals such as Carbon Footprint Reduction, Diversion away from finite carbon-based resources or removal of hard-to-recycle mixed waste materials, all while ensuring compliance with local, state, federal and global legislative regulations.

Certifications, Life Cycle Assessments and Third-Party Validation
The ISO 14040/14044 standard is increasingly recognized globally as the preferred format for life cycle assessment. When seeking supporting data for your products and specified materials and evaluating their environmental impact on the global ecosystem, referencing this standard is essential. Organizations should prioritize obtaining third-party validation of their systems and materials. These systems must track chain of custody from inception to delivery but also address materials in Mass-balance production, commonly used by Bio-Attributed, Bio-Circular and Advanced Recycling technologies.

As of 2024, merely claiming that products contain recycled content will no longer suffice due to more defined legislation. Federal, state and global mandates now require empirical proof of a minimum percentage content, varying by application and process, supported by a clear chain of custody from cradle to gate. With legislation becoming more detailed, it is necessary to describe the recycling technology employed and its alignment with specific legislation.

Beyond understanding and defining the technologies used, providing a clear pathway in which your organization incorporates sustainability into its products is crucial to avoid accusations of Greenwashing. The EU Parliament has approved a directive to protect consumers from misleading marketing practices, aiming to improve product labeling and prohibit the use of misleading environmental claims. The legislation targets vague and generic terms like “environmentally friendly,” “natural,” “biodegradable,” “climate neutral,” or “eco” without chain of custody proof. These rules enhance product labeling clarity and trustworthiness, enabling consumers to make better purchasing choices. North American producers doing business in the EU should be aware of this legislation and the need for Transparent claims and partnerships with suppliers offering a clear chain of custody and Life Cycle Assessment for the materials and goods they provide.

Choosing the Right Pathway Technology for Each Business and Applications
In all endeavors of design and development, it is imperative to foster a transformative mindset that prompts us to reconsider how we design, produce, consume and dispose of the products we create and market. Additionally, integrating sustainable strategies that adhere to the S.M.A.R.T. framework (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound) is essential. As we navigate the journey towards sustainability, it is crucial to explore technologies that promote circularity and complement each other.

Establishing a consistent cadence is vital when evaluating which recycling technology aligns with your processes and product design. Prioritizing the use of materials that facilitate plastic-to-plastic conversion, such as Mechanical Post-Consumer Recycling, should be the initial consideration. Subsequently, advancements can be made to PIR, Bio-Attributed, Bio-Circular and Advanced Molecular recycling based on specific application requirements concerning color, performance, circularity and regulatory compliance.

Embarking on the sustainability pathway is a challenging endeavor that necessitates partnerships, third-party certifications to ensure transparency, and the avoidance of terms like “greenwashing.” Attention to detail is crucial, while steering clear of generalized statements such as “green,” “eco-compliant,” “sustainable,” or “recyclable.” It’s noteworthy that current and forthcoming legislation mandates Life Cycle Assessment and third-party evaluation to safeguard brand owners and consumers alike.

Maintaining a clear and transparent chain of custody for products and their constituent materials is increasingly vital, especially with global legislation leaning towards requiring reporting of scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon emissions. When designing products, it’s essential to be mindful of their chemical and molecular composition and their impact on overall carbon emissions. Scope 3 emissions, originating from sources beyond organizational control like purchased goods and services, transportation, distribution and capital goods, often constitute the majority of overall greenhouse gas emissions. Plastics procured for conversion are significant contributors to scope 3 emissions due to the energy-intensive production processes involved. Addressing these aspects presents the most significant opportunity for plastic converters to reduce their carbon footprint.


It is with collaborative partnerships that we can and will meet our goals for a more sustainable and carbon neutral future. This can only be obtained by developing your supply chain and with credible resources that have a sound commercial understanding of sustainability and circularity practices. As the markets shift from risk aversion to action through legislation, design and implementation it will be necessary to have a defined pathway to your sustainability goals. Better understanding of all types of sustainable technologies will help to build a pathway to increased recycled content, improved part design, lower carbon footprint and compliance to local municipalities, state, federal and global sustainability regulations.

Let’s partner today to build a better tomorrow through education, collaborative partnerships, transparent third-party certification, sustainable design and definitive action that fosters trust through transparency and participation from all parties that make up our global ecosystem.

Adam Wozniak’s advocacy, expertise and active participation in industry-leading events solidify his role as a true sustainability leader, paving the way toward a more eco-conscious and responsible future for the plastics industry and our planet. A 22-year veteran of the plastics industry with a robust educational background from Loyola University, Chicago, his influence extends to industry groups like the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council Advisory Council and the Plastics Industry Association Recycling Committee, where he contributes to shaping sustainable practices and driving positive change.

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