Recycled polyolefins: how quickly can industry come together to unlock supply?

The transition to a circular economy is priority for the plastics value chain. Amidst the wait for more legislative support and market development, leadership by the industry is required to accelerate the transition

3 minute read

As the recycled polyolefins market matures, the industry faces the challenge of breaking free from the cycle of uncertainty tied to accelerated new market development. 

Although progress has been made by the recycled polyester (rPET) industry in recent years, there is a need for change in other polymer markets to achieve greater circularity in the plastics value chain. The attention from both legislation and industry is now shifting towards polyolefins, recognising their potential to contribute significantly to accelerating this transition. 

Our new report How quickly can industry come together to unlock recycled polyolefins supply from our upcoming Recycled Polyolefins Service examines this question in more detail. This new service will be available in the coming months. 

Fill out the form for your complimentary copy of the full report and read on for an introduction.  

Greater circularity is priority for the plastics value chain 

rPET has been the primary focus of legislative and industry efforts. Change is required across other polymer markets, with a focus on increasing the circularity of polyolefins. This is where the most material contributions can be made to accelerate the transition.  

As outlined in the chart below, polyolefins account for over half of all packaging plastic waste. 

Download the full report for more information on what major brands — consumers of rPET and beyond — are driving demand for post-consumer resin (PCR) content. 

Mechanical recycling is still underutilised  

Mechanical recycling is the most established route for the end-of-life treatment of polyolefins, as well as the most cost and carbon efficient. Capacity has been increasing in recent years and is sufficient to support near-term growth.  

Yet, despite robust demand and increasing market support, mechanical recycling remains underutilised. This is attributed to limited feedstock availability and structural supply/demand imbalances between the low and premium grades of the market.  

Although capacity remains fragmented, there are early signs of consolidation in some markets.  

Could chemical recycling bridge the gap? 

Chemical recycling is a topic that has gained significant attention in the industry more recently and holds the potential to bridge this gap. Chemical recycling projects have been announced for 2026, but how many of them will go beyond the pilot stage? Will feedstock be available for these new projects?  

Although many chemical recycling projects have been announced for 2026, the realistic outlook for scale-up is likely far less aggressive.  

There are some signs of improvement. However, legislative acceptance of chemical recycling towards recycled content targets remains the key source of uncertainty and lack of commitment to large-scale investment. 

Securing a supply of suitable feedstock to support even a small commercial scale plant is the challenge. While ‘low hanging fruit’ has already been picked, it will take time and incentives for sorting companies to invest and establish facilities to pre-treat mixed plastic streams. 

Europe leading the way in advanced recycling technologies 

With the most advanced recycling infrastructure and regulatory framework, Europe is seen as an obvious frontrunner in the sector. However, operating capacity remains at a similar level as the US, and Asia has started to see an increase in activity.   

Key sources of uncertainty in this sector continue to be legislative acceptance, access to feedstock and time required to establish the infrastructure to improve product quality. During the wait for legislative support and market development, leadership and collaboration from industry is required to accelerate the transition. Our full report tackles this topic in more detail. 

Fill in the form at the top of the page for your copy