The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Berkeley, Calif.) has released “Chemical Recycling: Status, Sustainability, and Environmental Impacts,” a technical analysis of the chemical recycling process for plastics.
The report states that chemical recycling’s pyrolysis and gasification processes can release hazardous substances and produce new hazards. It also states that chemical recycling is energy-intensive and generates significant quantities of carbon dioxide, and burning fuel created from chemical recycling creates carbon dioxide emissions similar to those that come from directly burning the plastic for fuel. Pyrolysis and gasification face serious operational challenges in treating contaminated and mixed plastics, it says. Further, plastic-to-plastic chemical recycling operations have high costs and low production capacity that result in a product that is not competitive with virgin plastic, it says. The report calls chemical recycling “a distraction at best,” and it recommends that communities instead focus on zero-waste strategies that reduce the production and consumption of plastic.
In response to the report, the American Chemical Council (Washington, D.C.) points to a peer-reviewed study by Argonne National Laboratory, which finds that pyrolysis to convert scrap plastic back to hydrocarbon building blocks helps reduce fossil fuel use by 96% and water use by 58% throughout a product’s life cycle. The ANL study also found that 75% of plastics processed through pyrolysis were converted into feedstocks for new plastics, chemicals, waxes, and ultra-low-sulfur transportation fuels. ACC also notes a study Closed Loop Partners conducted, which suggests chemical recycling could “unlock a $120 billion market” in the United States and Canada. New chemical recycling facilities—including those of Agilyx in Tigard, Ore., Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., and Brightmark Energy in Ashley, Ind.—are or soon will be producing products that include virgin-grade polystyrene, high-quality polyester, and new waxes and fuels, ACC says. Visit no-burn.org/chemicalrecycling or americanchemistry.com.