Chemical Recycling of Plastics

1. Sustainability Problem: Waste/Recycling

Only 9% of all plastic waste produced since 1950 has been recycled, and unfortunately, the remaining plastics have ended up either in landfills, incineration systems, or left in the environment. Plastics are a major environmental problem because they can be become infinitely smaller over time, but never fully breakdown. Additionally, plastics are particularly harmful to the environment because of the chemicals they are made from; the toxins can harm wildlife and lead to further global warming.

2. Sustainable Technology: BioCellection- Accelerated Thermal Oxidative Decomposition

A California recycling tech startup has discovered a chemical process of breaking down polyethylene (PE) waste. The chemical process transforms the plastics into high market value chemicals that can be used in the manufacturing of new products. The process itself is called: Accelerated Thermal Oxidative Decomposition (ATOD). The company claims that ATOD is different from other chemical processes because it requires lower temperatures, generates less oil waste, requires less steps, and minimizes toxic waste and carbon emissions.

  • BioCellection uses a chemical process of breaking bonds between molecules through oxidation, in order to extract the resulting organic acids, such as glutaric acid, succinic acid, and adipic acid. These acids are considered intermediate chemicals, which can be used in “high-performance” materials in the manufacturing of electronics, cars, clothing, and more.
  • For every ton of plastic waste chemically processed, around $2,500 worth of “high performance virgin-quality” chemicals can be produced; each ton of plastic waste processed can prevent nearly 20 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted.
  • Breaking down the low-grade PE takes around 6 hours, and the system uses temperatures of around 200 degrees Celcius. BioCellection claims that the process uses the same amount of energy needed to power a TV screen.
  • Chemical recycling is an alternative to the traditional mechanical recycling. Since there are billions of tons of plastic waste around the world, the process used by BioCellection may have the ability to help reduce global fossil fuel consumption within supply chains.
  • The ATOD process helps brands meet ambitious sustainability goals concerning supply chain management, and increase the marketability of the company. Furthermore, the by-product of the chemical breakdown offers manufacturers  high-quality chemicals for a cheaper price.

*BioCellection recently became Novoloop, in an effort to expand the company’s product design and capabilities.

“BioCellection uses chemistry in plastic recycling” (, Living Circular

3. Stakeholders:

  • Residents
  • City governments
  • Manufacturing companies
  • Waste management companies  
  • Wildlife services

4. Technology Implementation:

1. The first step is for BioCellection to build relationships with local waste management companies, in order to extract plastic waste from collection bins.

2. The company should also communicate with manufacturing companies that would be responsible for purchasing and using the chemical products that BioCellection produces.

3. BioCellection/Novoloop should perform annual environmental impact assessments, in order to continuously evaluate the environmental implications of the ATOD process.



2 thoughts on “Chemical Recycling of Plastics

  1. #dg3199

    Super cool post. What percentage of plastic waste is polyethylene waste? I wonder what sort of engagement model can be created such that companies that would utilize the chemicals could be “mandated” to do so. Perhaps there is some sort of price-fixing that could occur making this sort of recycled waste cheaper than their newly created or synthesized counterparts, effectively encouraging the private market to consume these recycled chemicals.


  2. This is a really exciting development. I feel like for a long time the infinite lifecycle of plastics in the environment has just been considered an inevitable reality, but there’s a lot of exciting work being done in finding other ways to dispose of and/or reuse plastic waste. I appreciated the article’s encouragement of new processes continuing to be developed, and how this solution in particular enables a circular economy when it comes to plastic usage – which will likely be a necessary approach to plastic consumption as completely phasing out plastic from our economy doesn’t feel plausible in the foreseeable future.


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