PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (AP) — The plastics industry says there’s a way to solve the plastic waste crisis that plagues our planet’s oceans, beaches and land. Chemically recycle plastic waste.
Chemical recycling typically uses heat or chemical solvents to break down plastics into liquids and gases to produce oily mixtures or base chemicals. Industry leaders say the mixture can be turned back into plastic pellets to create new products.
“What we’re trying to do is really create a circular economy for plastic, because we think it’s the most viable option to keep plastic out of the environment.” industry trade associations.
Companies such as ExxonMobil, New Hope Energy, Nexus Circular, Eastman and Encina are planning to build large-scale plastic recycling plants. According to the ACC, seven of his smaller facilities across the country are already recycling plastic into new plastic. Several companies are converting hard-to-recycle used plastics into alternative transportation fuels for aviation, ships and cars.
But environmental groups say advanced recycling is a distraction from real solutions like reducing plastic production and usage. They believe that the idea of recyclable plastics could allow the exponential increase in plastic production to continue. recycling rates are very low, especially in the United States.
Hard-to-recycle plastic products such as plastic packaging, multi-layer films, bags, and Styrofoam end up in landfills, the environment, or sent to incinerators.
Judith Enck, Founder and President of Beyond Plastics, says plastic recycling doesn’t work and never will. She said that means there are thousands of different chemical additives and colorants used to give plastics different properties. As such, it cannot be mixed and recycled using conventional mechanical methods. And since virgin plastic is cheap, there isn’t much of a market for recycled plastic, she said.
So what is more likely to happen than actual recycling is the industry moving to burning plastic as waste or as fuel, said Enck, a former regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. increase.
Lee Bell, policy adviser to the International Pollution Removal Network, sees chemical recycling as a publicity move by the petrochemical industry. The aim is to discourage regulators from restricting plastic production. Bell said plastic production could become even more important to the fossil fuel industry as climate change puts pressure on transportation fuels.
According to industrial ecologist Roland Geyer, the industry has produced about 11 billion tonnes of plastic since 1950, half of which has been produced since 2006. According to the United Nations Environment Program and Norway’s GRID-Arendal. and global plastic production is expected to more than quadruple by 2050.
According to the International Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the percentage of successfully recycled plastic waste will fall from 9% in 2019 to 17% in 2060, unless additional policies are enacted to curb demand for plastic and promote recycling. % is projected to rise. We cannot keep up with the expected increase in plastic waste. More ambitious policies could increase the amount of plastic waste recycled from 40% to 60%, according to the OECD.
Last Beach Clean Up and Beyond Plastics, two groups working to reduce plastic pollution, say that after China stopped accepting waste from other countries in 2018, the recycling rate for U.S. plastic waste in 2021 will drop even further. We estimate it to be low, 5% to 6%.
The US National Recycling Strategy says there are no options to exclude, including chemical recycling. According to the industry, these new plants are being viewed as manufacturing plants. They should be legally defined as such, not as waste management. Over the past five years, about 20 states have passed legislation to that end. Opponents say it’s a way to circumvent stricter environmental regulations that apply to waste management facilities.
There are currently a small number of US facilities that recycle plastic into new plastic. According to ACC, the largest is a 60-tonne-per-day plant in Akron, Ohio.
Altera Energy says it incorporates hard-to-recycle plastics such as flexible pouches, multi-layer films, and hard plastics in cars. Plastic marked with a “3” is included because plastic water bottles are mechanically recycled. Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.
“Our mission is to solve plastic pollution,” said president Jeremy DeBenedictis. “It’s not just a catchphrase. We all really want to solve plastic pollution.”
The Ohio facility typically takes 40 to 50 tons per day, heats and liquefies the plastic, and converts it back to approximately 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of oil or hydrocarbon liquids per day. About 75% of what enters the facility can be liquefied in this way. The remaining 15% is converted to synthetic natural gas to heat the process, and the remaining paper, metals, dyes, inks and colorants exit the reactor as by-products or carbon char, Debenedictis said. Stated. The char is disposed of as harmless waste, but some hope to sell it to the asphalt industry in the future.
The process doesn’t involve burning or incinerating plastics, DeBenedictis said, because the process doesn’t involve oxygen, and the product is trucked to petrochemical companies as synthetic oil, essentially creating a “new plastic.” “Molecular building blocks for production”.
Any material they take in that could not previously be recycled should not be sent to landfills, dumped in the ocean or incinerated, DeBenedictis said.
“The next level has to be a new technology called chemical recycling or advanced recycling. That’s the next frontier,” he said.
“Let’s not be kidding here. Now is the right time to do it,” added the company’s CEO, Fred Schmuck. “There is simply no way to meet climate goals without addressing plastic waste.”
DeBenedictis said he is looking to license the technology to grow the industry because it is “the best and fastest way to make an impact in the world.” Finnish oil and gas company Neste is currently working to commercialize Alterra’s technology in Europe.
The main chemical recycling technologies use pyrolysis, gasification or depolymerization. Neil Tangri, science and policy director for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, is skeptical. He says that since the 1990s, we’ve heard that pyrolysis was about to change everything, but it hasn’t happened. Instead, plastic production continues to grow.
GAIA sees chemical recycling as a false solution to facilitating mass production of virgin plastics. This is a high-carbon, high-energy process that releases harmful air pollutants, Tangri said. Instead, GAIA hopes to significantly scale back its plastic production and produce only recyclable plastic.
“Nobody needs more plastic,” Tangri said. “We continue to strive to solve these production problems with recycling when we really need to change the volume and output. There is a solution.”
Equity issues in factory location
The Rhode Island legislature this year considered a bill exempting such facilities from solid waste licensing requirements. Environmentalists and residents near Providence Harbor vehemently opposed the move, fearing new factories would be built nearby. State environmental officials sided with them.
Monica Huertas, secretary general of the People’s Port Authority, helped lead the opposition. The neighborhood is already overloaded with industry, which can lead to asthma attacks after walking around.
Dwayne Keyes said it was unfair that he and his neighbors, unlike residents of wealthy white neighborhoods in the state, should always be vigilant against such proposals. There are enough environmental hazards that residents will not benefit economically, he added. Keys calls it environmental racism.
“The assessment is that we are the path of least resistance,” he said. “Not without resistance, but at least. We are a coalition of volunteering individuals. There is no access, no legal recourse.”
Chemistry Council’s Baka said the facility is run to the highest standards and that the industry believes everyone deserves clean air and water, and he wants critics to see it first hand. He said he would invite one.
U.S. plastic producers have said they will recycle or recover all plastic packaging used in the U.S. by 2040, and have already announced more than $7 billion in investment in both mechanical and chemical recycling. .
“I think we are on the cutting edge of a sustainability revolution where circularity is at the heart of it,” said Baca. “Innovative technologies like advanced recycling make this possible.”
Kate O’Neill wrote a book about waste called Waste. A professor in the School of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, she has thought a lot about whether chemical recycling should be part of the solution to the plastic crisis. He said he concluded yes even though he knew it would “offend environmentalists”.
“For some of these big issues, nothing can be ruled out,” she said.
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