As the US general public becomes more aware of the increasingly damaging impacts of plastic waste, people have asked politicians for regulatory frameworks to reduce consumption of single-use plastic. Environmentalists pointed out that less than 10% of plastic consumed in the US is recycled.
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the major trade association for the chemical industry proposed another solution: using chemicals to recycle plastics by breaking them down into molecular building blocks for reuse, referred to as advanced recycling.
“Policy makers are very interested” in advanced recycling, says Craig Cookson, senior director of plastics sustainability for the ACC. “Their constituents are coming to them and saying they want to see greater amounts and more types of plastics recycled in their communities.”
Policy makers in a handful of states have been responsive to the ACC’s requests. Earlier this year, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia passed laws that support chemical recycling of plastic, joining 14 other states that have enacted similar policies since 2017.
However, environmentalists disagree with these laws as processes for advanced recycling are energy intensive and contribute to pollution. Advocates find the term “recycling” contentious as the processes are used to generate fuel.
Judith Enck, president of Beyond plastics, a project campaigning for the reduction in plastic, said that businesses are acknowledging that plastic pollution is a problem while trying to preserve their business. Industry promoting such laws is an act of public relations Enck said.
Renée Sharp said the strategic adviser for Safer States, an alliance of health and safety advocates that tracks environmental legislation in states.
“We’re seeing legislators who think that they’re doing something that’s good for the environment, but they have bought the industry line. They don’t really understand what these technologies are.”