Towards a Circular Economy for PET Bottles in the U.S. - 4P Framework

Research output: NRELPresentation


The United States generates the most plastic waste of any country. Along with that GHG emissions from the global plastic economy are expected to increase to 15% of the global carbon budget by 2050. It is imperative that plastic recycling is made a reality to reduce both plastic pollution in the environment and GHG emissions. A portfolio of end-of-life strategies must be implemented to minimize environmental impacts and retain valuable plastic material, but it is challenging to compare options that generate products with different utility and lifetime. Plastic use reduction, reuse and recycling are thus increasingly important, but making informed policy and research decisions within this space can be challenging given the diverse range of available solutions. The novel analysis framework, Plastic Parallel Pathways Platform (4P) has been equipped with consequential life cycle assessment, techno-economic analysis, and a plastic circularity indicator to estimate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, circularity, and cost of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) down-cycling to lower-quality resin, closed-loop recycling to food-grade PET bottles, up-cycling to fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP), and conversion to non-plastic products (electricity, oil) on a United States economy-wide basis. Integrating system dynamics into this robust plastics model that already incorporates techno-economics, circularity, and environmental impacts will enable identification of key bottlenecks between manufacturers, waste sorters, and reclaimers that currently prevent rapid decarbonization of the plastics economy. System dynamics (SD) explore the evolution of activities and technologies based on changed macro parameters such as plastic demand and supply, market shifts, and cross-sectoral interactions. This project particularly aims to explore the interplay between, waste collection, plastic waste sorting, recycling, and manufacturing, as well as the effect of plastic bale quality and plastic reuse initiatives on the surrounding process stages. This functionality will facilitate combinatory analysis in which a portfolio of end-of-life pathways are assessed simultaneously, with the exact makeup of that portfolio affected by parameters such as technology scales, resource constraints, and waste mitigation efforts. Integrating SD with the 4P framework enables analyzing the effect of increased revenue and reinvestment into improving process efficiencies, sorting and collection quantities. Through that, market effects of increased recycled resin availability can be studied for the plastics systems model for the US. The results will help identify technical or economic bottlenecks that currently limit efforts to decarbonize the U.S. plastics economy.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages21
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NamePresented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers 2023 AIChE Annual Meeting, 5-10 November 2023, Orlando, Florida

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A20-88006


  • circular economy
  • emissions
  • plastic


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