Technological watch

Anti-Plastics Group Calls Chemical Recycling 'Dead-End' Technology

I’ve warned you before in previous blogs: The “greens” do not want recycling to succeed in any way, shape, or form! They have found many reasons to denounce mechanical recycling and why that method doesn’t work because they really do not want plastics to be collected, sorted, and shipped around the country to various recycling centers to be made into more plastic. That, my friends, is not their goal. In fact, they absolutely hate the idea that plastic recycling can be used in a “circular” way to create more plastics.

So, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation with its brave, new world of a “circular economy” can kiss that idea goodbye! That plan will never fly with the plastics haters of the world.

Advanced recycling processes, about which I’ve written recently, seem to be a good idea — especially those technologies than can take plastics numbered 3 to 7 that are difficult-to-impossible to mechanically recycle — and create fuel and other base chemicals. But that often involves processes such as pyrolysis, and the greens have found a reason to hate that, as well.

The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) sent me a notice about a recent “technical analysis” by that group revealing that chemical recycling is polluting, energy intensive, and has a track record of technical failures. The report concludes that it is “impossible for chemical recycling to be a viable solution in the short window of time left to solve the plastic problem, especially at the scale needed.“

Dr. Neil Tangri, Science and Policy Director at GAIA, commented, “There is a lot of talk about chemical recycling as the next wave of recycling, but most of these companies are just turning plastic into fuel to burn it. That’s not recycling — that’s just an expensive and convoluted way of burning fossil fuels. Even when they try to turn it back into plastic, most of the material is lost in the process. This is a dead-end technology.”

Key findings of this GAIA-produced analysis conclude that chemical recycling is an environmental health risk. (Here we go again!) “Plastic waste contains toxins, and heating plastic creates even more,” said one finding. “All of those toxic substances must go somewhere — into the air, the water, and the final products. Pyrolysis, the most commonly used chemical recycling technology, produces more emissions than waste incineration.”

GAIA accuses the plastics industry of “grossly” overstating the feasibility of chemical recycling and understating is emissions. “The lack of robust independent reporting and monitoring of chemical recycling facilities has led to it being portrayed well above and beyond its capabilities,” said GAIA.

The study, says GAIA, shows that chemical recycling has a “large carbon footprint, and poses a climate risk.” More plastic waste is turned into greenhouse-gas emissions than back into plastic, something that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, it claims, and “we urgently need to decarbonize our society now.”

That may sound simple, but it might not be possible given that we live in a carbon-based world — carbon is ubiquitous in all life. Carbon is often called the “king of elements,” as there is enormous diversity of carbon-containing compounds known as organic compounds. Carbon is the second most abundant element in the human body by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen.

Every time we breathe out, we produce carbon dioxide which is very helpful to the plants that are the source of our own oxygen, which enables us to live. So, does GAIA have any idea where we will get our oxygen if we “decarbonize” the entire Earth?

Lastly, GAIA concludes that chemical recycling will not solve the plastic crisis because “very little of the waste plastic actually becomes new plastic. Most is lost in the process, so it cannot qualify to be part of a circular economy.”

That might be news to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Dr. Andrew Neil Rollinson, a chemical reactor engineer and specialist in alternative thermal conversion technologies and one of the authors of the GAIA report, states, “While such a solution may seem ideal, sound engineering practice and common sense show that chemical recycling is not the answer to society’s problem of plastic waste. It represents a dangerous distraction from the need for governments to ban single-use and unnecessary plastics, while simultaneously locking society in a ‘business as usual’ future of more oil and gas consumption.”

GAIA’s study represents further proof that the anti-plastic people of the world do not want the industry to find any solutions at all to the challenges of plastic waste in the environment. Every solution that the industry develops ultimately is found to be, at the least, unacceptable and, at worst, another dangerous process that supports the “toxic plastics” narrative, which has no basis in scientific fact.

Image: Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock

Publication date: 05/06/2020

Plastics Today

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Last update: 2022-01-31