The plastics industry says there is way to help solve the crisis of plastic waste plaguing the planet’s oceans, beaches and lands— recycle it, chemically.
Chemical recycling typically uses heat or chemical solvents to break down plastics into liquid and gas to produce an oil-like mixture or basic chemicals. Industry leaders say that mixture can be made back into plastic pellets to make new products.
“What we are trying to do is really create a circular economy for plastics because we think it is the most viable option for keeping plastic out of the environment,” said Joshua Baca, vice president of the plastics division at the American Chemistry Council, the industry trade association for American chemical companies.
ExxonMobil, New Hope Energy, Nexus Circular, Eastman, Encina and other companies are planning to build large plastics recycling plants. Seven smaller facilities across the United States already recycle plastic into new plastic, according to the ACC. A handful of others convert hard-to-recycle used plastics into alternative transportation fuels for aviation, marine and auto uses.
But environmental groups say advanced recycling is a distraction from real solutions like producing and using less plastic. They suspect the idea of recyclable plastics will enable the steep ramp up in plastic production to continue. And while the amount produced globally grows, recycling rates for plastic waste are abysmally low, especially in the United States.
Plastic packaging, multi-layered films, bags, polystyrene foam and other hard-to-recycle plastic products are piling up in landfills and in the environment, or going to incinerators.
Judith Enck, the founder and president of Beyond Plastics, says plastics recycling doesn’t work and never will. Chemical additives and colorants used to give plastic different properties mean that there are thousands of types, she said. That’s why they can’t be mixed together and recycled in the conventional, mechanical way. Nor is there much of a market for recycled plastic, because virgin plastic is cheap, she said.
Chicago Tribune, 22-10-22