"Chemical Recycling" Will Not Solve Our Plastics Problem
These technologies are a dangerous distraction from needed investments in proven recycling policies and infrastructure.
The plastics and petrochemical industries are under intense public pressure to address plastic pollution, and are aggressively promoting so-called “chemical recycling,” including plastics-to-fuel (PTF) technologies, as the foremost solution.
AMBR firmly opposes the use of plastics-to-fuel technologies and urges state and federal legislators to reject any policies to support these false solutions.
Read AMBR’s reports on “chemical recycling” and plastics-to-fuel technologies:
- Chemical Recycling Will Not Solve Our Plastics Problem
- The False Promise of Plastics-to-Fuel Technologies
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Instead of pursuing these unproven and risky technologies, there is an abundant need for state and national policies to reduce problematic plastics and invest in proven mechanical plastics recycling.
AMBR members recognize a strong need for new technologies to improve or complement mechanical recycling. There is a small subset of “chemical recycling” technologies, such as purification and depolymerization, that have the potential to convert plastics back into new plastic products if proven to be economically feasibly and hold no threat to human health. These plastics-to-plastics (PTP) recycling technologies have the potential to play a role in reducing plastic pollution and fossil fuel use, but only when integrated into a larger systemic strategy to reduce, reuse, and then recycle necessary plastic packaging and products.
Plastics-to-fuel technologies have no role in a circular economy and compete with investments in authentic recycling.
Reduce Plastics Pollution
AMBR recommends these five actions to invest in true solutions to reduce plastic pollution.
Reject All Forms of Plastics-To-Fuel Technologies
AMBR does not support PTF technologies due to economic, environmental, and social concerns. PTF technologies:
- Present risky financial investments for communities and recycling programs;
- Create health risks, especially to overburdened and vulnerable communities;
- Undermine proven needed investments in mechanical recycling;
- Do not support a zero-carbon future and do not support a circular economy; and
- Perpetuate more plastic waste.
Stop Using "Chemical Recycling" and "Advanced Recycling" as Blanket Terms
PTF technologies, like gasification and pyrolysis, and PTP technologies, like purification and depolymerization, are distinct methods with different risks and benefits. The blanket use of “chemical/ advanced recycling” enables companies to disguise plastics-to-fuel technologies as circular solutions when they are only waste-to-energy programs.Read AMBR’s Report: Chemical Recycling Will Not Solve Our Plastics Problem
Eliminate Problematic and Unnecessary Plastics
AMBR supports the immediate elimination of problematic and unnecessary plastics in order to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. The majority of plastics cannot or will not be effectively recycled at scale. We need to focus on standardizing plastic packaging to focus on recyclable, less toxic products in order to prioritize and direct investments in those plastics that can be effectively recycled at scale.
AMBR supports the US Plastics Pact’s list of 11 problematic and unnecessary plastics to immediately phase out in the US market.View the US Plastics Pact List of Problematic and Unnecessary Plastics
Invest in Proven Policies and Programs to Strengthen Mechanical Recycling
By enacting specific policies to advance proven mechanical recycling solutions, much more can be done at the local, state, and federal levels to improve the collection, sorting, and use of recycled plastics that will further deliver additional benefits to our environment, communities, and economies. These strategies include producer responsibility, bottle deposit, and minimum recycled content policies, refill/reuse and source reduction, and environmental justice protection.
Explore Emerging Polymer Recycling Technologies with Caution
Emerging technologies, such as purification and depolymerization, have the potential to convert discarded plastics back into new plastic products. These PTP recycling technologies can complement mechanical recycling programs if they can be developed economically and under environmentally sustainable processes.
AMBR encourages recycling operators and communities to use the following criteria if considering PTP technologies:
- Require a transparent environmental and human health review of the process and facility to be used;
- Ensure that this process will address a gap in recycling that is not already being filled by mechanical recycling or provide a complementary technology that enhances the yield or quality of mechanically recycled materials;
- Require at least 75% of the scrap plastics will be recovered in the recycling process;
Possess and maintain a valid contact(s) with an end market or manufacturer(s) that utilize the recycled materials in new products or packaging; and
- Ensure the facility pays a fair price for the materials that, at a minimum, offsets the costs of transportation and covers the MRFʼs processing costs per ton.
- Chemical Recycling: Distraction, Not Solution (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives)
- All Talk and No Recycling: An Investigation of the U.S. “Chemical Recycling” Industry (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives)
- Chemical Recycling: Status, Sustainability, and Environmental Impacts (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives)
- WWF Position: Chemical Recycling Implementation Principles