De Plástico-a-Combustible: Una Propuesta Inadecuada

La basura plástica está aumentando globalmente y según las tasas actuales de producción, se estima que el plástico aumentará al doble en los próximos veinte años. A la luz de la crisis global del plástico, tecnologías como transformar los residuos de plástico en combustible quemándolo, son promocionadas como circulares, buenas para el medio ambiente, y sostenibles, cuando en realidad se trata de todo lo contrario.

Faced with increasing pressure from lawmakers and civil society to reduce plastic production and greater awareness of the limits of mechanical recycling, the petrochemical industry has been peddling chemical “recycling” and “plastic-to-fuel” as a primary solution to plastic pollution. However, after billions of dollars and decades of development, these approaches do not work as advertised. A plastics treaty stands to be undermined if it embraces these industry-backed false solutions.

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.

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. Companies like Fulcrum Bioenergy and Velocys have been catching media attention by claiming that they have developed a technology that can produce jet fuels from waste.

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 fact, our findings show that chemical recycling is polluting, energy intensive, and has a track record of technical failures.

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 fact sheet includes details on why PTF is so problematic, profiles types of legislation that have been considered or passed in 15 US states thus far, and provides several brief case studies of existing PTF facilities and their failures and unknowns.

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.

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.