EPA standing pat on pyrolysis regulations for now

After nearly three years of consideration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is standing pat on regulation of pyrolysis operations and will continue to view them as incineration.

The move buys time for further EPA study but is a setback for those in the plastics industry that have been seeking to have pyrolysis regulated as a manufacturing system instead of incineration.

Regulating pyrolysis invokes "onerous and inappropriate permitting requirements" the American Chemistry Council has claimed.

But environmental group Beyond Plastics has said the agency is correct its current view. "Gasification and pyrolysis units combust waste and are therefore incinerators. This is true regardless of any semantics or word games the industry puts forth," the group said in a 2021 letter to the EPA.

The federal government will continue to regulate pyrolysis as "other solid waste incineration units" (OSWI) after looking into whether to remove the facilities from that classification. It was back in August 2020 that the EPA started looking at the issue because the term "pyrolysis/combustion" is not defined in current OSWI regulation.

EPA later sought public input and a better understanding of pyrolysis and combustion units in September 2021, ultimately receiving 170 comments and holding discussions with stakeholders, the agency said.

After gathering those comments and holding those discussions, EPA is now saying it actually needs more time to consider just how to regulate pyrolysis.

The agency said, in the Federal Register, "it is evident that that pyrolysis is a complex process that is starting to be used in many and varied industries. EPA will need significant time and personnel resources to fully analyze the comments and evaluate all the current information sources to gain a technical and regulatory understanding of the pyrolysis process."

EPA is currently finalizing OSWI rulemaking under a court mandated schedule and the agency said it "is likely that the agency's review of pyrolysis information may need to extend beyond the final rulemaking deadline."

"The EPA does not believe it would be appropriate for those sources to become unregulated emissions sources during the time required for our analysis of pyrolysis/combustion units to be completed," the agency said. So the agency is withdrawing the idea of removal for now.

Joshua Baca, vice president of the Plastics Division of the ACC, has previously said that regulating pyrolysis as incineration implies the end of life of a product. His trade group wants pyrolysis to be considering a manufacturing process.

"Advanced recycling breaks down the used material to basic molecular building blocks and allows you to use that as a feedstock to produce new products over and over and over again," he previously said. "That misconception and false narrative that somehow advanced recycling is incineration could not be further from the truth."

» Publication Date: 06/06/2023

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