How plastic recycling works

Readingtime 2 minutes

Around 370 million tons of plastic per year are produced worldwide. Only a fraction of this is recycled. This overview shows which technologies can help to establish a circular economy for plastics, thus saving valuable resources while reducing CO2 emissions at the same time

Publication Date7TH MAY 2021


Included Media


Interactive Infographic

Start and finish

The cycle begins and ends with products made of plastic. In addition to recycled material, plastics made from renewable raw materials such as castor oil or organic waste are fed into the system, as are petroleum based plastics.

Mechanical and chemical recycling

Different processes are available for reprocessing plastics, depending on the material, type of processing, product condition, and degree of soiling. In addition to mechanical recycling, in which the polymer remains intact, various chemical processes are also used.

Higher alcohols

Mixtures of CO2, CO, and H2 can be used to manufacture methanol or hydrocarbons for further production steps. Evonik is working on biotechnological and chemical solutions for the higher alcohols.

Thermal utilization

If plastic cannot be recycled, it is burned and generates energy in the form of electricity or heat. Researchers are working on obtaining valuable starting materials from the CO2 arising during the process.


Hydrogen plays an important role in the realization of a circular economy as a component of syngas. Produced using renewable energies, it will contribute to achieving the climate objectives in the long term.


The plastic cycle

On the path to achieving a true circular economy: Evonik is working on innovative processes in order to reduce plastic waste.


Pathways to the circular economy

Bernhard Bauske and Ingo Sartorius discuss the steps that are needed for the optimal recycling of plastic.

The circular economy

Plastic recycling: Facts and figures

A sustainable cycle: The recycling of plastic requires innovative technologies. An overview.

The circular economy

Closing the circle

Lauren Kjeldsen is promoting circularity at Evonik. The ultimate aim is to create a fully functioning circular economy that works without fossil fuels.