Towards a better definition and calculation of recycling

Recycling is any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes, excluding energy recovery and reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations.
The development of innovative technologies, such as multi-output recycling technologies (e.g., chemical recycling), calls for increasing clarity on several aspects of the definition.

For instance, the current rules for calculating the amount of recycled municipal waste state that in case of multi-output processes the quantity recycled shall be determined by a mass balance approach. However, mass balance rules are not provided.Lack of sufficiently clear guidelines also apply to compostable plastic waste and quality of recycling. This lack of clarity is an obstacle to the conception of robust policy measures addressing recycling and circular economy.

To close the gaps, this study contains technical proposals for

i) calculation rules to perform mass balance for reporting of recycling rate in multi-output processes and
ii) clarifications of the recycling calculation rules for biodegradable waste.

In addition, the study presents an estimation of the impacts of the changes proposed and a preliminary framework to address quality of recycling.

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