16 November 2022
Let’s Make the Basel Plastic Guidelines Environmentally Sound
Chemical “Recycling” is a False Solution

In step with its historic decision to provide new controls on plastic waste trade, the 14th Conference of Parties in 2019 mandated Parties to update the Convention’s 2002 technical guidelines on the environmentally-sound management (ESM) of plastic wastes. Three years later, draft updated guidelines were tabled for possible adoption at the 15th COP. However, by the end of the meeting, it was clear that much work remained. Now, the Parties are being asked to do that work and resolve several outstanding questions raised at COP15. One of the most serious questions is whether or not to include information on so-called “chemical recycling” in technical guidelines focused on “environmentally sound management”.

For many months and at COP15, NGO and academic experts have warned the Parties that “chemical recycling” is a “unicorn” – a fantasy beast that has yet to establish its efficacy and economic viability, while already exhibiting serious environmental threats. To believe otherwise at this point is misleading. Therefore, it is very important that the Parties eliminate any references that imply that chemical recycling is a form of ESM recycling or economically viable[1] – it fails on both counts.
A recent example of a “chemical recycling” venture rejected for failure to perform in an environmentally sound way. 
A Sell Job

We are very concerned that the plastic and fossil fuel industry, now cornered into admitting that for the last decades only 6-9% of plastics have been recycled, are looking to create another recycling mirage. They have launched an intensive promotional campaign to now claim that “chemical recycling” will save the day - as if the mere repetition of the term “chemical recycling” (or its synonyms “advanced recycling,” “feedstock recycling,” or “molecular recycling”) can justify doubling or tripling plastic production, including single-use plastic production. They are also currently trotting out development project ideas to sell to investors around the world, especially to developing countries, as a means to both reduce the growing mountains of mixed, contaminated, and multilayer single-use plastic waste arisings, but also to serve as potential targets for receiving plastic wastes via export.

The Facts

However, these are the facts:

– “Chemical recycling” is a term hiding a range of technologies, including pyrolysis, gasification (both forms of thermal treatment), and solvent-based plastic waste processing.

- Most “chemical recycling” of post-consumer plastic waste is not recycling as most often the outputs are burnt as hazardous waste, or at best a as dirty fuel.

- The fuel can contain a myriad of compounds which are plastic additives that will likely result in harmful residues (if removed) or toxic emissions (once burned).

- “Chemical recycling” harms our climate: in particular, pyrolysis emits nine times more carbon than mechanical recycling, while half the carbon content of plastic waste ends up in emissions; and energy consumption for the other methods are exceedingly high.

– “Chemical recycling” is unproven to operate efficiently and safely at scale, particularly for mixed, contaminated post-consumer plastic wastes, which are the lion’s share of the plastic waste crisis.

– Most of the operations trying to manage post-consumer waste have failed, with investors often suing “chemical recycling” companies for misleading them to invest in bogus technologies.

– No governments have established that “chemical recycling” technologies can be considered Best Available Technology (BAT) or “Best Environmental Practice” (BEP).

What Must be Done

Now the task of finalizing the Plastic Waste Technical Guidelines (including resolving the debate about “chemical recycling”) has been handed back to the Small Intersessional Working Group (SIWG), with the next in-person meeting scheduled for 8-10 December in Geneva. We expect the guidelines to be tabled for adoption again at COP16 in 2023, and your help now between now and then is vital.

We need your help to ensure that the technical guidelines on the environmentally sound management of plastic wastes exclude references to “chemical recycling” operations. For the reasons mentioned above, the draft guidelines must exclude references to chemical recycling as it is not ESM, and focus instead on established technologies where BAT-BEP exist.

1. Sign up for the Small Intersessional Working Group (SIWG)

Joining the SIWG will give you the opportunity to highlight issues with chemical recycling as well as ensure the draft plastic waste guidelines address the challenges your country encounters in managing plastic wastes and implementing the Basel plastic waste amendments.

Please send your membership request to Carla Valle-Klann of the Basel Secretariat <carla.valle@un.org>

2. Then, submit your comments on the draft plastic waste guidelines by 18 November 2022

Parties in the SIWG are invited to submit comments on the latest version of the draft guidelines by 18 November 2022. Please submit your comments to Carla Valle-Klann of the Secretariat <carla.valle@un.org>.

3. Join the in-person meeting in Geneva on 8-10 December


The Basel Convention ESM Guidelines on Plastic Waste Management should never include technologies that exacerbate the climate and toxic waste crisis. These are clearly not ESM. Moreover, issuing guidelines that ignore environmental soundness would damage the Convention’s credibility in the global fight against plastic pollution. Worse, it would give the green light to industry’s plans to sell the world more plastic when it is clear that plastic production must be reduced.


[1] Draft JRC (Research Center of the European Commission) study stated that based on scarce data currently available, chemical recycling does not seem economically viable.