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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: May 18, 2022

State laws incentivize chemical recycling, but environmental advocates are critical

“Chemical recycling of plastic gets a boost in 18 US states—but environmentalists question whether it really is recycling”
Chemical & Engineering News

As the public grows more concerned about plastic pollution, some elected officials are getting onboard with “advanced recycling,” which is being promoted by industry groups. Although this process might sound like a good way to deal with the plastics problem, environmental advocates warn that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, according to a cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, an independent news outlet of the American Chemical Society.

Unlike mechanical recycling, which grinds plastic into small pieces to be reused, advanced recycling chemically breaks down the plastic into molecular building blocks, writes Senior Correspondent Cheryl Hogue. These raw materials go into the production of new plastic items or are converted into fuels such as gasoline or home heating oil. Plastic-to-plastic recycling does not stop the production of single-use plastic items, which environmental advocates maintain would have the biggest impact on the plastic pollution crisis. And because the plastic-to-fuel strategy involves energy-intensive processes and air pollution, it is not circular, which advocates say defeats the purpose of recycling. Thus, they say that plastic-to-fuel recycling should not be considered advanced recycling under the new laws.

Policymakers in 18 states have already enacted legislation that encourages advanced recycling, and even more are considering taking similar action. Most of these laws reclassify advanced recycling facilities as manufacturing plants, rather than solid waste facilities. Environmental groups are crying foul because that means chemical recyclers can receive government financial incentives and qualify for looser regulations. And currently, industry groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to exempt pyrolysis and gasification units—two processes used for chemically recycling plastic—from stringent Clean Air Act regulations. As more states line up bills promoting advanced recycling, industry groups are hoping this momentum will also push for regulatory changes at the federal level. The Biden administration is currently seeking comment from both industry groups and environmental activists, and a decision on this matter is expected soon.

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C&EN Chemical & Engineering News