Reports » Glossary
Here’s a glossary of terms that help define our industry.
Something missing? Something not quite right? We’re learning and evolving just like you, so please get in touch and help us improve.
Plastic is usually made from polymer mixed with a complex blend of materials known as additives. These additives, which include flame retardants, plasticisers, pigments, fillers, and stabilisers, are used to improve the different properties of the plastic or to reduce its cost.
Automotive shredder residue (ASR)
Automotive shredder residue is an automotive waste stream that results from shredding automobiles. It includes a mixture of ferrous and non-ferrous metals and plastics.
The baseline (scenario) serves as a primary point of comparison for an analysis. In this study, the outputs of the Current Commitment Scenario are referred to as the baseline.
A material wholly or partly derived from biomass.
A material that can, with the help of microorganisms, break down into natural components (eg. water, carbon dioxide, biomass) under certain conditions.
Capex (Capital expenditures)
Funds used by an organisation to acquire or upgrade assets such as property, buildings, technology or equipment.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS)
Use of carbon capture technology to extract CO2 from potential system emissions streams, followed by transport and storage of CO2 long term in underground saline aquifers.
Carbon Capture and Usage (CCU)
Use of carbon capture technology to extract CO2 from potential system emissions streams then use it, in this case through the Methanol-to-Olefins process to make new polymers.
Capturing CO2 at end-of-life incineration that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere then using it in a closed loop through the Methanol-to-Olefins (MTO) process to make new polymer.
While the term is used in different ways, in this report, chemical recycling refers to processes that break down polymers into individual monomers or other hydrocarbon products that can then serve as building blocks or feedstock to produce polymers again. Four chemical recycling technologies are considered in this study:
Circularity is a measure of resource efficiency, i.e. the degree to which (re)used materials replace new virgin materials. In this study, the circularity metric is defined as the share of plastic utility that is either reduced, substituted by circular materials, or recycled mechanically or chemically. It excludes plastic disposed in a linear fashion or plastic entering stock.
Collection separated at source
The collection of individual components of solid waste (such as plastic) separated into different collection containers by the user, in order to recover the material or to facilitate its collection and disposal. Separate collection, as well as sorting, washing, and compounding/extrusion of plastic waste is a precondition for high-quality recycling as contamination with other materials is limited.
Contamination occurs in recycling when non-target materials are placed in recycling waste streams. These non-target materials include organic waste, other chemicals, or polymer mixtures. Contamination alters the physico-chemical properties of the secondary raw material.
Closed loop recycling
Closed loop recycling describes the recycling process in which the output (recyclate) is included in a product of the same sector (i.e. packaging) and which in turn can be recycled again.
Materials, including compostable plastic and non-plastic materials, that are approved to meet local compostability standards (for example, industrial composting standard EN 13432 where industrial-equivalent composting is available).
Depolymerisation is a chemical process that different combinations of chemistry, solvents and heat to break up the polymer into monomers or shorter fragments. It is thus the reverse process of polymerisation under application of chemical solvents
Design for Recycling (DfR)
The process by which companies design their product and its packaging to be recyclable.
The end-of-life deposition of the waste materials. Disposal routes are defined in this study as incineration with energy recovery, landfilling, and fuels fraction from chemical recycling.
Dissolution describes a process where plastic waste is dissolved in a solvent-based purification process to separate polymers from additives and contaminants. Note that dissolution is often referred to as “physical recycling” rather than chemical recycling since the chemical constitution of the polymer remains intact throughout the process.
Solutions applied post-consumer. This includes collection, sorting, mechanical recycling, chemical recycling and disposal.
Practices that reduce unnecessary plastic packaging directly at source or through innovative product design and solutions.
End-of-life is a generalised term to describe the part of the lifecycle proceeding the use-phase.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Schemes that enable producers to contribute to the end-of-life costs of products they place on the market.
Any bulk raw material – virgin or secondary – that is the principal input for an industrial production process Plastic is currently to a large extent produced from petrochemical feedstock, i.e. from fossil fuels.
Formal waste sector
Individuals or enterprises who are involved in public or private sector recycling and waste management activities which are sponsored, financed, recognized, supported, organized or acknowledged by the formal solid waste authorities.
Gasification is a process where mixed after-use materials are heated in the presence of limited oxygen to produce syngas that can be converted into polymers again.
Incineration with energy recovery
Waste-to-energy refers to the incineration of (plastic) waste with recovery of generated energy.
Materials that do not follow an intended pathway and ‘escape’ or are otherwise lost to the system. Litter is an example of system leakage.
A specific solution modelled within a system intervention
Like-to-like recycling describes the processes where recyclates are used for the same application again (e.g. bottles-to-bottles recycling).
A place where collected waste has been deposited in a central location and where the waste is controlled through daily, intermediate and final cover, thus preventing the top layer from escaping into the natural environment through wind and surface water.
Operations that recover after-use plastics via mechanical processes (grinding, washing, separating, drying, re-granulating, compounding), without significantly changing the chemical structure of the material.
Collected waste that has been released or deposited in a place from where it can move into the natural environment (intentionally or otherwise). This includes dumpsites and landfills that are not managed by applying daily cover to prevent waste interacting with the air and surface water. Uncollected waste is categorised as unmanaged.
Mixed waste streams
Waste streams are flows of specific waste, from its source through to recovery, recycling or disposal. In mixed waste streams, different materials are mixed which decreases the recyclability of this waste stream due to contamination and difficulties in separating those materials.
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
According to the EU Landfill Directive, municipal solid waste is defined as “waste from households, as well as other waste which, because of its nature or composition, is similar to waste from households”. In the scope of this study, it includes all residential and commercial plastic that is collected by or on behalf of municipal authorities and thus excludes but excludes industrial packaging waste.
New delivery models
Services and businesses providing utility previously furnished by short-lived plastic in new ways, with reduced material demand.
Process by which polymers are kept intact, but the recyclate leaves the sector to be converted into another type of product (e.g. park benches, fibres) and is unlikely to be recycled again due to the degraded quality and/or material properties.
Opex (Operating expenses)
Expenses incurred during the course of regular business, such as general and administrative costs, sales and marketing, or research and development.
A synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers
Three plastic material categories which we have modelled as flowing separately through the system map: rigid monomaterial plastics, flexible monomaterial plastics, or multilayer/ multimaterial plastics.
Plastic demand is defined as the volume of plastic utility minus the volume of plastic utility fulfilled by reduce and substitute levers.
Plastic to fuel (P2F)
Process by which the output material of chemical conversion plants is refined into alternative fuels such as diesel.
Plastic to plastic (P2P)
Several chemical conversion technologies are being developed that can produce petrochemical feedstock that can be reintroduced into the petrochemical process to produce virgin-like plastic – a route which we define as ‘Plastic to Plastic’ (P2P).
The valuable services (including protection, food preservation, etc.) that are provided by plastic under a business as usual scenario. In alternative scenarios, services of equivalent value could be provided in other ways with less plastic. In other words, all scenarios analysed in this study have the same plastic utility (e.g., consumer demand for services), but the way which this utility is delivered can vary massively – in some scenarios it is done via virgin plastic, in others with recycled plastic, and in others with new delivery models.
Pyrolysis is the thermal process of heating up plastic under the absence of oxygen. It converts polymers into a range of simpler hydrocarbon compounds in the form of liquid pyrolysis oil.
In order for something to be deemed recyclable, the system must be in place for it to be collected, sorted, reprocessed and manufactured back into a new product or packaging– at scale and economically. Recyclable is used here as a short-hand for ‘mechanically recyclable’
Recycling – Plastic Pathways
In this study, the (effective) recycling rate refers to the quotient of the volume of output stream from a recycling plant (i.e. recyclate) and the total mass of plastic waste generated.
Recyclate (secondary plastic)
Recyclate is the output material of recycling processes that can be directly used as a secondary raw material for plastic conversion.
Replacement of single-use packages with reusable items owned and managed by the user or by services and businesses which provide the utility (New Delivery Models).
Physical processing techniques and processes to separate materials in waste streams. Sorting is typically performed in Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) or specific Plastic Recovery Facilities (PRFs). Sorting can be performed automatically with sorting technologies or manually.
Replacement of plastic by sustainable and circular materials.
Total system cost comprise cumulative capex and opex at each stage of the value chain for the respective scenarios and periods, including production and waste management of both plastics and substitute materials. System costs are funded through both capital investment and from P&L.
Solutions applied pre-user. This includes design for recycling (D4R); Reduce levers such as eliminate, reuse (consumer), reuse (new delivery model); and Substitute levers such as paper, coated paper and compostable plastic.
Virgin plastic is the polymer resin produced directly from the petrochemical feedstock.