Circular plastics – renewable or fossil?

It seems to be a common misunderstanding that circular plastics are automatically renewable, i.e. bio-based. Although this may be true in the future, currently circular plastics are primarily fossil-based. 

The majority of plastic continue being produced from fossil oil. Plastic waste is, therefore, also primarily fossil-based. When crude oil based plastic waste is recycled and used as a raw material, the new material produced from such raw material does not become “renewable”. 

One may argue that recycled or circular plastics should be considered “renewable” as there is an abundance of plastic waste available and it continues to accumulate as we use and discard used plastic items, such as packaging, at alarming rates. But this does not change the origin of the material from fossil-based to renewable.

Can fossil material be sustainable?

We at Neste are working towards replacing fossil raw materials with renewable raw materials in the plastics production. We are simultaneously working on developing new, efficient ways to recycle plastics, no matter whether they are fossil or renewable. We can help societies reduce their fossil oil dependence in both areas.

Circularity can be achieved with both renewable and fossil materials, with both fossil and bio-based waste plastics. Increasing plastics recycling rate through developing circular life cycles for plastics is a responsible act providing numerous benefits for the environment, for us humans as well as the economy even when currently such material is, like said, fossil-based. Paradoxically, they can contribute to sustainable development, such as climate change mitigation, among other things.

Our attention should, therefore, not be focused on whether or not plastic waste as raw material or the materials produced from it can be labeled as “fossil” or “renewable”.

The label we use is secondary to the fact that reusing and recycling of these valuable materials efficiently provides a sustainable and resource-efficient way to use the Earth’s resources and help prevent waste plastics from entering the environment as litter. Every ton of renewable or recycled raw material replacing virgin fossil oil use efficiently prevents new fossil carbon from entering the atmosphere. Circular plastics do that by storing and keeping the carbon in the loop.