Report says chemical recycling isn’t viable; ACC disagrees
The report saying that chemical recycling won't solve the plastic pollution problem produced an immediate rebuke from the American Chemistry Council.
A new report says that chemical recycling is not a viable solution to plastic pollution problems, and the plastics industry has already begun pushing back against it.
The report was released on Oct. 31 by two anti-plastics advocacy groups: Beyond Plastics and the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN).
“For many of the same reasons why traditional recycling of plastics has been an abysmal failure, chemical recycling has also failed for decades. Plastic waste is expensive to collect, sort, and clean, and its variety of different chemicals, colours, and polymers makes it inherently too difficult to be made into new plastic products,” said Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and former EPA regional administrator. “This report reveals the truth hidden behind the plastic and fossil fuel industry’s misleading marketing campaign: Chemical recycling isn’t new, it has not worked for decades, and the few facilities that are operating are hurting the planet and people”.
Chemical recycling is the process of converting polymeric waste by changing its chemical structure and turning it back into substances that can be used as raw materials for the manufacturing of plastics or other products.
The report notes that there are now 11 chemical recycling facilities in the U.S., and alleges that even if all of them were operating at full capacity, they’d handle less than 1.3 per cent of the U.S. plastic waste. “Chemical recycling is nothing more than another industry PR stunt to distract the public and deter policymakers from doing the one thing that can realistically curb the plastic pollution crisis: reduce plastic production,” Enck said.
“Chemical recycling has failed for decades, continues to fail, and there is no evidence that it will contribute to resolving the plastics pollution crisis,” said IPEN science policy advisor Lee Bell, the lead author of the report. “Chemicals in plastics make them inherently incompatible with a circular economy. We need to dramatically reduce plastic production and innovate for safer, toxics-free materials, not more false industry promises.”
In a response to the report, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) dismissed it as false information, and defended the success of chemical recycling. “Many proven chemical recycling technologies are in use today, remaking new plastics from used plastics,” said Ross Eisenberg, head of ACC’s plastics division. “Recently, the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory found chemical recycling significantly reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water use compared to virgin plastics production. It is unfortunate that organizations like Beyond Plastics and IPEN, that have never visited a chemical recycling facility, perpetuate misleading allegations about technologies that are helping reduce plastic waste and minimize environmental impacts. However, it’s not surprising that a group that publicly disavows all recycling would construct its own set of ‘findings’ to spread false information on chemical recycling technologies.”