The American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington, has written a letter objecting to an attempt by some members of Congress to regulate newer plastic recycling facilities using Clean Air Act techniques applied to incinerators.
The ACC says, “On Friday [April 29], members of Congress sent a letter to the House Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies requesting that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate advanced recycling technologies as municipal waste combustion units under the Clean Air Act.”
The May 3 reply by the ACC refers to advanced recycling—a term it uses for a collection of solvent-based or other thermochemical technologies to convert plastic scrap into new polymers and other marketable materials—as “game-changing technologies that enable a circular economy by transforming used plastics into high quality new plastics.”
The ACC adds, “Characterizing advanced recycling as ‘waste combustion’ or ‘burning plastics’ is scientifically inaccurate and distracts from the real and significant progress being made.”
The organization points to “seven commercial-scale advanced recycling facilities” and others “leveraging existing chemical manufacturing infrastructure to make virgin-quality plastic from used plastics in the U.S.” as “just the beginning of a massive wave of new projects.”
The ACC says that since 2017, $7.5 billion in investments have been announced involving more than 70 projects with the potential to divert up to 8.75 million tons of plastic scrap from landfills annually.
“A recent independent study found advanced recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions 43 percent relative to waste-to-energy incineration of plastic films made from virgin-resources,” the ACC writes. “Another study found benchmarked air emissions from an average-sized advanced recycling facility were often on par with those from common well-regulated facilities such as hospitals and universities, and often too low to trigger key EPA permitting thresholds."
The trade association says regulating advanced recycling as solid waste incineration would be “inconsistent with Clean Air Act legal criteria” and would conflict with laws in 18 states that have passed laws regulating the facilities as manufacturing operations.
Clean Air Act regulation also “would undermine EPA’s National Recycling Goal to increase the U.S. recycling rate to 50 percent by 2030,” the ACC says, adding “America’s plastic makers will rely on advanced recycling to help EPA meet its goal.”
The ACC concludes, “From Wendy’s to Warby Parker, advanced recycling is being used to make plastic consumer products from the hard-to-recycle plastics mechanical recycling cannot process. We urge lawmakers and the EPA to follow the science and reject the false claims that advanced recycling is ‘waste combustion,’ and we invite them to visit an advanced recycling facility to get the facts in person.”
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