Chemical Recycling of Plastics is ‘False Solution,’ Scientists Suggest


After research involving eight plants in the United States, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has found that advanced recycling touted by industry groups, also known as chemical recycling, is in fact a ‘false solution,’ Agence France Press (AFP) reported.

Chemical recycling differs from the world’s most used mechanical recycling which doesn’t contribute to producing high quality plastics. Chemical recycling uses different techniques (high temperature, chemical reactions…) that help break plastic down to its molecular building blocks.

The NRDC believes the plants using this technique are very far from producing new plastic.

The council, which rejects “greenwashing” (misleading consumers on the environmental performance of companies or products), noted that these plants are in fact producing fuel that would be burned later, in addition to huge amounts of waste.

‘Chemical recycling plants are not only failing to recycle plastic in an efficient and safe way, but they are also emitting polluting substances to the atmosphere,’ said Veena Singla, a senior scientist at the NRDC who authored the research.

The NRDC also found “five of the eight studied facilities were producing fuel and burning it directly to generate electricity. This process emitted greenhouse gasses highly responsible for climate change.

Six of these plants are allowed to produce PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), chemical materials resulting from chemical recycling and causing health problems. According to the report, producing fuel from plastic waste does not qualify as recycling.

The Natural Resources Defense Council studied a factory in Oregon that produces polystyrene and uses pyrolysis technology to convert this material into styrene. The council notes that between 2018 and 2020, the Agilex plant sent a total of 150 kilograms of styrene to “burn it instead of converting it into new plastics.”

In 2019, about 230,000 kilograms of hazardous waste (gasoline, lead and cadmium) were also transported to other sites for incineration.

Asharq Al-Awsat, 10 March 2022