EPA, wrestling with plastic waste, gets an earful on chemical recycling

As the Environmental Protection Agency grapples with how to meet its goal of a 50 percent U.S. recycling rate by 2030, it's wading through some starkly different viewpoints on what role chemical recycling should play.

It's a hot button topic. The plastics industry says chemical recycling could "transform" plastics recycling rates and help industry innovate to handle difficult packaging that today essentially has to be landfilled.

But for environmentalists, chemical recycling is a dead-end that will increase air pollution and hurt efforts to cut back on single-use plastics.

EPA heard those points of view and others loudly in recent weeks, after announcing in September it was starting a formal process asking how it should regulate pyrolysis and gasification, two key technologies in chemical recycling.

As written comments came in ahead of a Dec. 23 deadline, all sides seemed to agree on one thing — new EPA rules are badly needed.

Several state government environmental agencies chimed in to tell the agency it's difficult for them to effectively regulate emerging technologies, and federal help is needed.

Part of the debate, which gets very technical, comes down to how to classify pyrolysis and gasification.

It's either a manufacturing operation, which is how the plastics industry wants it considered, or it's solid waste disposal and incineration, a more stringent category favored by environmental groups.

» Publication Date: 23/12/2021

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