Traditional mechanical recycling faces several challenges, most notably there are certain types of plastics that are hard to recycle using current processes. Globally, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that only about 9% of all plastics produced are currently recycled. In the European Union more than a third, 38%, of plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2020.  However, this is still some way off the EU’s target of recycling 50% of plastic packaging by 2025. ExxonMobil sees a big opportunity for advanced recycling to help address that shortfall.  

 We’re working on solutions that can break down hard-to-recycle plastics into their molecular building blocks that can be used to create new, virgin-quality plastics and other valuable products. 

 Why are some plastics hard to recycle? Traditional mechanical recycling has difficulty removing oils, grease or food waste, so many food and oil-based product containers have to be discarded, usually to a landfill. Another factor is the packaging itself. When packaging has multiple layers of different types of plastics and other materials, it can’t go through the traditional mechanical recycling process. 

For example, a crisp bag may have a plastic outer layer and an aluminum inner layer. This combination of materials can’t be effectively separated by traditional machines. Advanced recycling solves these issues by breaking down materials to their molecular level. These “refreshed” molecules then become the raw materials used to make brand new plastics and other valuable products. It truly gives a new life to plastic waste.   

Advanced recycling can help society recycle a greater share of the products we use every day. It’s a solution that can improve recycling rates for plastic waste and support a more circular economy, while also providing the opportunity for lower relative emissions. And it can be scaled and replicated across the globe to increase the amount of plastic material that can be made into new products.   

Here’s how it works.  

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Collection

We’re helping to collect hard-to-recycle plastics at scale. In the future, we hope the collection of all types of plastic could be a part of everyday recycling pickups.

Sorting

Today, plastics are sorted for mechanical recycling, landfill or incineration. Thanks to advanced recycling, we’ve opened an additional stream for difficult-to-recycle plastics like crisp bags and even artificial turf.

Shredding and Processing

Once diverted from landfill, the plastics are sorted, shredded and processed to meet the physical and chemical specifications for mechanical or advanced recyclers. Plastics that are more difficult to recycle are sent to advanced recycling facilities.

Rebuilding

At an advanced recycling facility, the plastics are converted into liquid and gas molecules - the raw feedstock needed to make valuable new products, like ExxonMobil’s certified-circular polymers.

New Plastics

These building blocks can be used to create a variety of new products, and we plan to have 30,000 metric tons of processing capacity by the end of 2022 and 500,000 metric tons globally of advanced recycling capacity by the end of 2026.

Circular Plastics

Certified-circular plastics are used in a variety of products, such as food-grade packaging. Once used, the products can be collected, sorted and recycled, helping to meet society’s goals for a more circular economy.

Advanced recycling can create a certified-circular loop for plastics that can be used again and again.

Form to Function Scroll to see the process

Advanced recycling can create a certified-circular loop for plastics that can be used again and again.

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