Chemical and Mechanical Recycling of Plastics

There are two types of plastic recycling: (1) mechanical recycling; and (2) chemical recycling. 

As we move towards improving recycling rates around the world, understanding the differences between the two types of recycling will become increasingly important. Neither system is perfect, and we need both types of recycling as each provides different functions within the recycling ecosystem.

Definition of Recycling

A global definition of “recyclability” of plastics packaging and products is an integral step to harmonising the worldwide plastics recycling industry.

Plastics must meet four conditions for a product to be considered recyclable:

  1. The product must be made with plastic that is collected for recycling, has market value and/or is supported by a legislatively mandated program.
  2. The product must be sorted and aggregated into defined streams for recycling processes.
  3. The product can be processed and reclaimed/recycled with commercial recycling processes.
  4. The recycled plastic becomes a raw material that is used in the production of new products.

This definition does not intend to restrict innovation. For innovative materials to be recyclable, it shall be demonstrated that they can be collected and sorted in sufficient quantities and are compatible with existing industrial recycling processes or have sufficient material quantities to justify operating new recycling processes.


Plastic Recyclers of Europe set up Recyclass, which is a comprehensive cross-industry initiative that advances plastic packaging recyclability and ensures traceability and transparency of recycled plastic content in Europe.

RecyClass works on the development of scientific testing methods for innovative materials. The testing results are incorporated into the Design for Recycling Guidelines and the free RecyClass Online Tool.

In parallel, RecyClass developed a system for reliable calculation and verification of recycled content in plastic products. The scheme relies on the principles of traceability and transparency.