Chemical Recycling: Richa Desai, Graham Packaging

16 January 2024

Richa Desai, Vice President, Sustainability, Graham Packaging

Richa Desai, VP, Sustainability, Graham Packaging

Ahead of AMI's Chemical Recycling event in March 2024, Richa Desai shares insights on current and future market trends and challenges, and the recent developments in this growing industry.

What is the most important lesson you have learned through your work on chemical recycling?

The most important lesson I have learned is that there is an intricate balance between technological innovation, environmental impact, and quality assurance. Advanced recycling presents promising solutions for transforming plastic waste into valuable raw materials; offering a potential avenue to address the challenges of plastic pollution and resource depletion. Importantly, advanced recycling facilitates the recycling of plastics indefinitely without compromising their quality and performance. This capability is pivotal as it enables the integration of 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content into plastic packaging, maintaining product integrity while significantly reducing the reliance on virgin materials. However, while advanced recycling offers these transformative benefits, it also brings forth complexities related to energy consumption, waste management, and scalability. Therefore, understanding the holistic environmental implications, benefits, and trade-offs from production to end-of-life management, are crucial.

What common misconceptions do people have about advanced/chemical recycling? How can these be addressed?

The most common misconception is that advanced recycling can solve all plastic waste problems. While advanced recycling offers significant potential, it is not a silver bullet for addressing all challenges associated with plastic waste. A holistic approach that combines various recycling methods, waste reduction strategies, and circular economy principles is essential. Through education, transparency, and collaborative engagement, the industry can foster a more informed and supportive environment for advancing advanced recycling as a valuable tool in the sustainable management of plastic waste.

What challenges does advanced recycling face in North America and how can these be overcome?

There are a few challenges, but the most significant, in my opinion, are that the regulatory landscape for advanced recycling is still developing and there is limited awareness and misconceptions about advanced recycling among consumers and businesses. The regulatory landscape governing recycled materials, particularly those derived from advanced recycling processes, can be complex and varies across states and jurisdictions. The absence of standardized guidelines and clear definitions for advanced recycled PCR materials can create uncertainty and hinder market adoption. There is limited awareness and understanding among consumers, businesses, and stakeholders regarding the benefits, safety, and applications of advanced recycled PCR materials. Addressing misconceptions, providing transparent information, and demonstrating the value proposition of these materials are crucial for building trust and acceptance.

Will the energy balance of chemical recycling improve in the foreseeable future?

Predicting the exact trajectory of the energy balance in the foreseeable future is challenging, but there are trends and factors that suggest potential improvements. With technological advancements, scale of operations, renewable energy integration, and process optimization, there's an expectation that advancements will enhance energy efficiency.

You will be speaking at the Chemical Recycling USA 2024 event, could you share a little of what you will be talking about and what you are looking forward to.

I am looking forward to emphasizing the importance of advanced recycling in transitioning to a circular economy, current challenges, and potential steps forward.

The fourth edition of AMI's Chemical Recycling event returns to Houston, TX on March 12-13, 2024. Find out more