PET chemical recycling needs clarity on mass balance methodology, EU regulation


The International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) definition of a mass balance methodology will be key for the European polyethylene terephthalate (PET) chemical recycling industry to progress, while further clarity on whether chemical recycling will count towards EU recycled content goals is still needed, speakers at a Petcore industry event said.

Speaking at the Petcore Monomer Recycling Webinar, Kristin Olofsson, Director Regulatory Affairs & Strategic Innovation, Chair ISO/TC61/SC14/WG 5 Mechanical & Chemical Recycling, said the ISO needs to publish details on ISO TC 308 Chain of Custody before European regulators can come up with their own set of definitions and methodologies for the mass balance approach to be used in chemical recycling.

The ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organisation made up of 166 national standards bodies, and aims to develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant international standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.

Set up in 2016, the scope of ISO TC 308 is to create standardisation in the field of chain of custody (CoC) for products and associated processes with specified characteristics, with the aim of ensuring that associated claims are reliable. Its aim is to ensure traceability and transparency across all products, from food and drink to textiles and apparel, and now, chemical recycling.

The ISO project committee was established with a view to making traceability simpler for all supply chain actors by using a uniform ISO language globally.

Conversations about chemical recycling go hand in hand with a discussion on how to measure the amount of recycled content in chemically recycled material, and mass balance is a popular approach for this.

In mass balance, a certified volume of renewable or recycled material is input across a production run, but may not be evenly distributed across each individual product.

For example, a plant may use 30% recycled material overall, but one piece of produced packaging could contain 100% recycled material, and the next 100% virgin material, or any mix between those two extremes.

Via this method, market players are able to state that they use a certain percentage of recycled or renewable material in their products, without having to prove that percentage in each individual product produced.

Currently the mass balance model has not been agreed, which is one part of the problem, and another is a lack of definition on how to calculate the recycled content in the material produced, Olofsson said.

Other areas where definitions are still missing include a verification scheme on the chemical recycling process as well as an environmental footprint methodology.

When looking at the European market for chemical recycling, Olofsson said the ISO needs to come up with a definition for mass balance under ISO TC 308 so that Europe can use this as a guideline.

“If we develop a standard before ISO TC 308 finalise their work, we may come into a contradictory discussion,” Olofsson said.

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~sICIS, 7 October 2021