Technological watch

Environmentalists nab win on chemical recycling in federal budget

The $1.7 trillion spending plan that passed Congress Dec. 23 includes a victory for environmental groups in the policy fight over chemical recycling.

The last-minute budget plan, which avoids a government shutdown for the holidays and keeps agencies funded through September, includes regulatory language on chemical recycling that’s been pushed by environmental groups.

Specifically, the budget legislation formally urges the Environmental Protection Agency to keep regulating pyrolysis and gasification technologies as municipal waste combustion operations, rather than as manufacturing facilities, as plastics industry groups want.

The EPA opened a formal rulemaking on that question in 2021, saying it was getting more questions about how the technologies were being used for plastics recycling and finding “considerable confusion” in the market.

Now, the new budget has Congress making a “request” to EPA to maintain the regulatory status quo, according to a statement from the environmental group Ocean Conservancy.

“This boils down to Congress formally recognizing that harmful chemical recycling technologies are not true recycling and do not move us closer to a circular plastics economy,” said Anja Brandon, the group’s associate director of U.S. plastics policy. “These technologies emit dangerous greenhouse gasses and toxic chemicals while enabling industry to continue unfettered plastics production.”

“To keep plastics out of our ocean, we need to make less plastic, and better recycle what we already have,” she said. “Expanding chemical recycling will kill any chance we have of accomplishing either.”

In a post on Twitter, Brandon thanked Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., for getting the language in the budget bill. Huffman is one of the lead sponsors of the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act and the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act.

According to Ocean Conservancy, the budget language specifically directs EPA to “consider the emissions, disproportionate impacts, and lack of circularity in its ongoing rulemaking” and noted concerns over the growth of the technologies in handling plastic waste.

“These chemical recycling technologies do not result in the recovery of plastic materials to advance a circular economy and the facilities contribute to climate change and impose disproportionate health burdens on the communities where they are located,” the budget bill said.

The American Chemistry Council declined to comment but it and other plastics groups have said the technologies can be a key part of efforts to recycle more plastic and have noted that EPA has included it within its proposals for a national recycling strategy.

Publication date: 23/12/2022

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Last update: 2022-01-31