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Battle lines drawn over plastics bill

Industry says the proposed legislation will make a circular economy unattainable

by Alexander H. Tullo
March 25, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 11


A photo of Agilyx' polystyrene pyrolysis plant in Tigard, Oregon.
Credit: Agilyx
Chemical makers say the Break Free From Plastics Pollution Act of 2020 will slow the progress of chemical recycling. Shown is Agilyx' polystyrene pyrolysis plant in Tigard, Oregon.

Chemical makers are lashing out against a bill set to be introduced in Congress on March 25, saying it would place unnecessary limits on plastic production and stymie chemical recycling of plastics.

Among its provisions, The Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 would put a moratorium on permits for new or expanded plastics facilities. It would ban certain single-use plastic goods such as utensils. And it would require post-consumer recycled content in products such as beverage bottles, mandating 25% by 2025 and 80% by 2040.

But the bill excludes recycling by pyrolysis and methanolysis, technologies that the chemical industry says yield higher-quality materials than does conventional mechanical recycling.

The bill is “a harmful and misguided piece of legislation,” said Joshua Baca, vice president of the plastics division at the American Chemistry Council, a trade group, in a press conference with other chemical executives. “It won’t end plastics waste but rather end the American plastics industry.”

During the conference, Dow CEO Jim Fitterling said that the plastics industry needs to move towards a circular economy model and that chemical recycling is an important part of such a model. “Under the act, these facilities are subject to a pause. We need to accelerate, not pause, progress on these important recycling innovations,” he said.

Supporters of the bill, including organizations like Beyond Plastics and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, held their own news conference. They said chemical recycling of plastics don’t displace virgin materials and the greenhouse gases, pollution, and environmental justice concerns linked to their production. Turning used plastic into fuels, as two US facilities do, isn’t recycling, they argued. They also criticized a plant that makes new plastic out of used material, saying much of its product is lost as carbon dioxide emissions.



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