CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS CALL OUT AMERICAN CHEMISTRY COUNCIL’S DECEPTIVE “POLL” ON CHEMICAL “RECYCLING”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 27 APRIL, 2022

New York, NY, USA–The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, #breakfreefromplastic, and Beyond Plastics have denounced the American Chemistry Council’s statement regarding New York State voters’ supposed support for chemical “recycling,” as state lawmakers consider bills SB 7891 and AB 9495, which would pave the way for the industry to build these largely plastic incineration plants.

“Of course voters want to believe that we can wave a magic wand and plastic garbage can miraculously be made back into new plastic,” says Dr. Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director at Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). “I also wish the Easter Bunny were real, or that I could own a time machine. The fact of the matter is, what the ACC calls ‘cutting edge’ technology has actually been around for 30 years, and it’s been a failure, both technologically and economically. The vast majority of these projects turn plastic (which is made from oil and gas) back into a fossil fuel that’s then burned, releasing harmful emissions that threaten our climate and public health. The petrochemical industry is simply distracting lawmakers and the public with technological fantasies while they continue to churn out more single-use plastic. Instead of daydreaming solutions, it’s time to scale back plastic production.”

Graham Hamilton, US Policy Officer at #breakfreefromplastic, states: “New Yorkers are smart and if the ACC was being honest about the nature and viability of so-called advanced recycling their polling wouldn’t look so good.They are taking New Yorkers’ desire for solutions and turning it into something they can build and sell, regardless of how technologically bunk or economically infeasible it is. This survey is yet another deceptive distraction from true solutions like source reduction, product redesign, and reuse and refill infrastructure.”

“The American Chemistry Council  poll of New York voters is useless. They may as well have asked if New Yorkers like adorable puppies and fresh-baked apple pie.  The poll question should have read:  Do you support plastics being sent to waste-to-fuel, pyrolysis, or gasification facilities?  And an even more useful question:  do you want to live near one of these facilities?” said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator.

Contact

Claire Arkin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), claire@no-burn.org 

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The scale of global plastic pollution has been brought to light in recent years. Over 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year, and more than 90 percent of it ends up in landfills, waste dumps, incinerators, and on lands and waterways. Like many other countries in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is dealing with growth in both domestic consumption of single-use plastic and waste arriving at the ports in the name of trade. Indonesia has been labelled as the second largest contributor to ocean plastic leakage after China. In addition to the amount estimated to leak into waterways and the ocean (9 percent of the 4.8 million tonnes of plastic waste generated in Indonesia every year), the majority of plastic waste in the country is being inadequately managed through open burning (48 percent), dumping on land or dumpsites (13 percent).

In response to the unprecedented plastic pollution crisis, fast-moving consumer goods companies and the petrochemical industry have supported and promoted countless miraculous-sounding technologies, pushing back on their bad reputations as major plastic polluters. CreaSolv is Unilever Indonesia’s flagship project on this front, and the media has touted it as an example of a technological innovation that can solve the entire global plastic waste problem by recycling the lowest-value plastic.

Two years after the highly-celebrated launch of the pilot plant in Indonesia in 2017, however, the fuss around the CreaSolv project quieted down as the company secretly shuttered the operation. Reports from local investors revealed multi-layered fallout of the CreaSolv project, from the logistical difficulties of sachet collection through challenged economics around the end products.

Civil Society Organizations Demand Unilever Stop Sachet Production and Switch to Reuse/Refill Systems

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 19 JANUARY, 2022, 9am PHT

Manila, PhilippinesAn investigation from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in Asia Pacific of Unilever’s sachet recycling efforts in Indonesia revealed that the company’s claims of the recyclability of sachets using a controversial method that industry calls “chemical recycling” has been largely a failure. Two years after the highly-celebrated launch of the pilot plant in Indonesia in 2017, the company secretly shuttered the operation due to insurmountable logistical, financial, and technical challenges. 

Unilever has come under increasing fire due to its outsized role in the plastic pollution crisis by producing single-use plastic packaging around the world that cannot be reused or recycled, causing massive amounts of waste that can only be dumped or burned. Unilever’s plastic sachets are particularly problematic, as their multiple layers of different types of materials, adhesives, and dyes make it impossible to recycle. 

Instead of listening to civil society’s calls to stop producing sachets and create and pursue zero waste solutions such as reuse and refill delivery systems, Unilever started a public relations campaign claiming its “ innovative CreaSolv technology” would be “the first in the world to be able to recycle and reuse multilayer plastic packaging waste.” 

According to the Break Free From Plastic movement’s annual brand audit report last year, Unilever is the third biggest corporate plastic polluter in the world. In Indonesia, plastic sachets make up 16 percent of plastic waste, amounting to 768,000 tonnes per year.

Key Findings: 

  • Unilever aimed to collect 1,500 tonnes of sachet waste for recovery in 2019 and 5,000 tonnes in 2020, but the program failed and was shuttered after two years. 
  • The goal was to recycle multilayer sachets to make new sachets, but due to low recyclability potential of sachets and technological failures, the plant could only process mono-layer sachets to make a different kind of packaging.
  • Unilever sought to prove that with this new technology plastic sachets could be part of a circular economy and recycled multiple times, but forty to sixty percent of waste feedstock was lost as residue during the process, and the recyclability of the product is unproven. 
  • The now closed facility cost Unilever more than EUR 10 million (or equivalent to IDR 156 billion) for construction since 2011. Uncollected sachets were either stored in warehouses, burned or dumped in landfills. The abrupt closure has also disrupted waste pickers’ livelihoods, who were engaged in collection for the project.

“We had our reservations when we first heard of the project,” said Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Regional Coordinator.  “But we are always open to innovations as long as it will not create additional problems that the people will have to deal with later.  Clearly, Unilever’s CreaSolv project is not a solution to the sachet problem.  This is another of Unilever’s deceiving publicity stunt designed to altogether avoid the problem (single-use plastics) and the solution (redesign their packaging) so its business as usual. In the end, the plastic problem worsens and people are blamed for it.” 

Aliansi Zero Waste Indonesia (AZWI) Co-coordinator Rahyang Nusantara said “the project is a distraction created to make us think that this is the solution to the plastic waste issue.  AZWI members have shown that there are solutions and it starts from the ground through policy work and multi-sectoral cooperation.  What we need is for the plastic industry and the fast-moving consumer goods industry to recognize that the Zero Waste system works and they need to be a part of it instead of pushing for fake solutions that are detrimental to the environment.”

Read the Investigation: https://www.no-burn.org/unilever-creasolv/

Press contacts:

Sonia Astudillo, Regional Communications Officer, GAIA Asia Pacific

sonia@no-burn.org 

Claire Arkin, Global Communications Lead, GAIA

claire@no-burn.org

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Amid the industry hype for plastic-to-fuel schemes, this advocacy brief highlights the climate, environmental, and health risks from these processes that outweigh any supposed benefits.

In light of recent promotional statements from technology providers, governments, and academic and research institutions, these publications look at the proposed application of converting municipal waste into fuel, namely for gas turbine aircraft engines. Such proposed solutions tend to facilitate a façade which outwardly supports corporate and governmental responsibility in the short term, but in the long term, provide a distracting diversion from the need to reduce waste production, ban single-use plastic, and leave fossil fuels in the ground.

The reality of waste-derived fuels: up in the air

There are no easy paths to sustainability for aviation. Greater efficiency in engines and operations would be an improvement, but the industry will still remain locked into its reliance on fossil fuels. Proposing to make alternative fuel from municipal waste is not, however, the answer. When one takes away the vacuous claims of ‘proof’, the PR-driven media narrative control, the churnalism, and the projections based on unsubstantiated life cycle analysis, all that remains is speculation in terms of potential viability, environmental impact, and sustainability.

 

Jet Fuels Made From Municipal Waste

Waste-derived fuels have long failed to materialize, and the bar is raised even higher for jet fuels; they must perform consistently and safely in extreme conditions, adapting to varying altitudes and pressures. Jet fuels must meet the highest and the latest standards in order to avoid problems associated with jets handling multiple fuel types, especially because of the long working life of commercial jet engines. However, meeting such rigid specifications is nowhere in sight for waste-derived fuel production.

 

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. The plastic industry’s promises of “plastic to fuel” & “chemical recycling” are a distraction. These false solutions justify the continued production of plastic and don’t address the source of the problem.

Amid overwhelming plastic pollution and an exponential rise in plastic production, the fossil fuel industry has touted chemical or “advanced” recycling as a solution to the plastic crisis. However, through extensive research GAIA has uncovered that the true nature of “chemical recycling” falls far short of the industry hype.

In 2017-2020, 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 factsheet summarizes the findings of the All Talk and No Recycling report. Which concludes that given the scale and urgency of the plastic pollution problem we don’t have any more time to waste on greenwashing tech-fixes like “chemical recycling” projects.

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.

Drawing on the Chemical Recycling technical assessment released in June 2020, this briefing unveils various technologies referred to as “chemical recycling” and addresses toxicity, climate implications, technology readiness, financial viability, and circularity of the processes.

This joint paper presents key findings from a review of some of the most commonly cited chemical recycling and recovery LCAs, which reveal major flaws and weaknesses regarding scientific rigour, data quality, calculation methods, and interpretations of the results.

The report reveals that chemical recycling is polluting, energy intensive, and has a track record of technical failures, and concludes that it is impossible for chemical recycling to be a viable solution in the short window of time left to solve the plastic problem, especially at the scale needed.

Amid overwhelming plastic pollution and an exponential rise in plastic production, the fossil fuel industry has touted chemical or “advanced” recycling as a solution to the plastic crisis.

In light of recent promotional statements from technology providers, governments, and academic and research institutions, this report looks at the proposed application of converting municipal waste into fuel, namely for gas turbine aircraft engines.

In a world where climate and waste crises are worsening at a staggering rate, the idea of turning waste into fuels might sound like a great solution.

Imagine if we could solve plastic pollution with one miracle technology. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it is. Here are 5 things plastic polluters don’t want you to know about chemical “recycling.”

Produced in collaboration with Changing Markets Foundation and Zero Waste Europe. Animation by Miritte Ben Yitzchak.

This joint paper presents key findings from a review of some of the most commonly cited chemical recycling and recovery LCAs, which reveal major flaws and weaknesses regarding scientific rigour, data quality, calculation methods, and interpretations of the results.

Available in English

As the global plastic pollution crisis continues to grow, so does industry hype around techno-fixes, including waste-to-energy incineration and chemical processing of plastic waste. Such downstream approaches create more problems and distract from the real imperatives, however, by emitting more pollutants and perpetuating overproduction of plastic. Real solutions to the plastic pollution crisis lie in:

  • Producing less plastic. The petrochemical industry will not voluntarily scale back production, so public policies are required. These can include bans on single-use and other unnecessary plastics; a ban on constructing new or expanded plastic production facilities; a quantitative cap on plastic production; and a tax on plastic production.
  • Encouraging alternative service delivery models. A growing number of zero waste businesses aim to displace plastic with reusable packaging or providing services that eliminate the need for plastics.
  • Supporting recycling. To revitalize recycling, eliminate additives, mixed-polymer and mixed material plastics (e.g. sachets); mandate recycled content standards; require producer financial responsibility for post-consumer plastics; and integrate the informal sector.
  • Avoiding false solutions.