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Research and innovation
News article17 November 2021Directorate-General for Research and Innovation1 min read

Europe leading in plastics innovation despite weakness in knowledge uptake

While leading innovation in plastic recycling and alternative plastics, together with the US, Europe is not valorising its full potential of fundamental research, especially in the chemical and biological recycling fields. This reveals a new study published by the European Patent Office (EPO) with the contribution of the Directorate-General Research and Innovation of the European Commission.

Europe and the US each accounted for 30% of patenting activity worldwide in plastic recycling and alternative plastics between 2010 and 2019, or 60% combined. According to the study, the fields of chemical and biological recycling methods generated the highest level of patenting activity in the period under review. Fundamental research plays a much more significant role than in other plastic recycling technologies, with nearly 20% of inventions originating from universities and public research organisations.

The report shows that Europe is the only major innovation hub to contribute a larger share of the chemical and biological recycling inventions from fundamental "upstream" research (29%) than overall in the field (26%). By contrast, the US and Japan's contributions to upstream international patent families - IPFs (29% and 11%) are lower than their respective shares in all IPFs (36% and 17%). Meanwhile, US start-ups and scale-ups generated four times as many IPFs in chemical and biological recycling as their European counterparts (338 v. 84). This suggests that Europe, despite being particularly active in fundamental research, is not exploiting its full potential when it comes to transferring these technologies to industry.


Publication date
17 November 2021
Directorate-General for Research and Innovation