A new report finds that bills to loosen restrictions on so-called “chemical recycling” are on the rise.
The petrochemical industry has spent the past few years hard at work lobbying for state-level legislation to promote “chemical recycling,” a controversial process that critics say isn’t really recycling at all. The legislative push, spearheaded by an industry group called the American Chemistry Council, aims to reclassify chemical recycling as a manufacturing process, rather than waste disposal — a move that would subject facilities to less stringent regulations concerning pollution and hazardous waste.
The strategy appears to be working. According to a new report from the nonprofit Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, 20 states have passed bills to exempt chemical recycling facilities from waste management requirements — despite significant evidence that most facilities end up incinerating the plastic they receive.
“These facilities are in actuality waste-to-toxic-oil plants, processing plastic to turn it into a subpar and polluting fuel,” the report says. Tok Oyewole, GAIA’s U.S. and Canada policy and research coordinator and the author of the report, called for federal regulation to crack down on the plastic industry’s “misinformation” and affirm chemical recycling’s status as a waste management process.
Chemical recycling is an umbrella term that refers to a handful of different processes. The most common ones, pyrolysis and gasification, start by melting discarded plastics under high heat and pressure, either in a low-oxygen atmosphere (pyrolysis) or by using air and steam (gasification). Both processes produce an oily liquid that can technically be re-refined back into plastic. However, despite decades of experimentation, the petrochemical industry has never been able to overcome economic and technological barriers to do so at scale.