Questions and Answers: Chemical Recycling

Industry is now pushing for a new technological fix for plastic waste, called “chemical recycling.” New proposals are popping up in Australia, the EU, Indonesia, Malaysia,Thailand, and the U.S., increasingly supported by favorable legislation. While plastics-to-plastics (P2P) and plastics-to-fuel (PTF) facilities are in principle different, industry increasingly touts certain facilities as “chemical recycling,” when in fact, these companies turn plastic back into a fossil fuel, which is later burned.

This document makes the necessary distinctions between plastic-to-plastic repolymerisation and plastic-to-fuel. It debunks the industry’s greenwashing efforts to disguise PTF as “chemical recycling,” and calls into question the actual potential of P2P technology. The bottom line is this: neither of these techno-fixes are the right answer. The only real solution is to stop making so much plastic.

US State Legislative Alert: the ACC’s push for “Plastic-to-fuel” bills

In 2017-2019, the plastics and chemical industry, represented by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), led an effort to make legislative changes to statewide policies to promote pyrolysis or “plastic-to-fuel” (PTF). This strategy not only promotes a techno-fix with a history of technical and economic failures, it undermines the real solution to the plastic pollution crisis– not producing so much of it in the first place. This fact sheet includes details on why PTF is so problematic, profiles types of legislation that have been considered or passed in 13 US states thus far, and provides several brief case studies of existing PTF facilities and their failures and unknowns.

Resources

GAIA. (2017). Waste Gasification & Pyrolysis: High Risk, Low Yield Processes for Waste Management.
Zero Waste Europe. (2019). El Dorado of Chemical Recycling, State of play and policy challenges.
Rollinson, A. (2018). Fire, explosion and chemical toxicity hazards of gasification energy from waste. Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, 54, pp.273-280.
Rollinson, A. and Oladejo, J. (2019). ‘Patented blunderings’, efficiency awareness, and self-sustainability claims in the pyrolysis energy from waste sector. Resources, Conservation and Recycling,141, pp.233-242.