Europe and the United States are at the forefront in innovation in plastic recycling and alternative plastics, according to a report published on October 19, 2021, by the European Patent Office.

They each accounted for 30% of patents filed worldwide in these sectors between 2010 and 2019. In Europe, Germany filed the most (8%), both in the recycling of plastics and bioplastics, while France - which is ranked second (4%) - stands out for its high level of specialization in these fields. It follows China and Korea (5% for each country).

The most patented chemical and biological methods

The report highlights that biological and chemical recycling methods generated double the number of patents filed over the period studied than those of mechanical recycling, used to transform plastic waste into new products: 9,000 compared with 4,500 international patent families (IPF). Among the most dynamic French players are IFP Énergies nouvelles (159 patents), Arkema (61) and Total (52).

Carbios, the iconic French green chemistry company

Biological methods that use living organisms (1,500 IPF) or the recycling of plastics into monomers (2,300 IPF) offer new possibilities for breaking down polymers and turning existing plastics into new ones. In France, Carbios, which specializes in PET resin-eating enzymes, inaugurated its demonstration plant on September 29, 2021, at the Michelin site in Cataroux, near Clermont-Ferrand (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region). This is the final step before the construction of its first industrial plant by 2025, with a capacity of 40,000 tonnes per year. The Carbios process is fully committed to the circular economy of the future by allowing material to be recycled indefinitely and thus rethinking the end of life of plastics (see

The role of basic research

Basic research plays a more important role in chemical and biological recycling than in other plastic recycling methods, with nearly 20% of inventions originating from universities and public research organizations. These universities and public research organizations are mainly located in Europe and the United States, with these two regions accounting for 29% of their IPF.