Technological watch

ACC pushes back on proposed EPA pyrolysis oversight

A trade group wants federal environmental officials to reconsider proposed rule changes that would impact how waste plastics that undergo pyrolysis are regulated.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency solicited comments regarding proposed "significant new use rules," or SNURs, under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

While the American Chemistry Council is raising concerns about that idea, the trade group that advocates on behalf of the chemical industry also said there already is a separate EPA proposal dating to 2021 to regulate pyrolysis under the Clean Air Act.

"Pyrolysis-based advanced recycling is a critical part of the solution to a circular plastics economy. As written, the SNUR proposal would create an unworkable impediment that could hinder the advancement of innovative technologies to increase this circularity," ACC said in a statement.

EPA wants the new rules in place to give the agency at least 90 days of notice to study the significant new use of chemicals in question.

"The required notification initiates EPA's evaluation of the use, under the conditions of use for that chemical substance, within the applicable review period. Persons may not commence manufacture or processing for the significant new use until EPA has conducted a review of the notice, made an appropriate determination on the notice, and has taken such actions as are required by that determination," the agency said.

Pyrolysis uses heat and pressure to transform used plastics to oil, synthetic gas and char. The oil can then be used as a fuel or a feedstock to make products, including new plastics. The gas can be recirculated to fuel the pyrolysis process, and the char is commonly discarded.

Craig Cookson is senior director of plastics sustainability at the ACC. He said there is some confusion about the proposed regulations from his view.

"This is about concerns about any type of contaminates that could be in a new use chemical," Cookson said. "We think that EPA's proposal here is ambiguous. They are focused on feedstocks. But the question that we have is, 'what do they mean by feedstocks?' Because feedstocks in this case, is it all the way back to the post-use plastics or is it the pyrolysis oils themselves? EPA, they are ambiguous about that. So we're not sure exactly what they are proposing here."

The process has been around for decades, but there has always been a question about its profitability. Pyrolysis has grown in popularity as improvements in technology have more companies believing they can make money.

Cookson said ACC also has a concern that regulations ultimately could impact implementation of chemical recycling, also called advanced recycling or molecular recycling, broader-based efforts to replace virgin plastic use with recycled or bio-based content.

"Across its offices and programs, as multiple statutory programs and regulations are implemented, it is imperative that EPA have a consistent, cohesive approach to the materials and processes to be regulated. Anything less will add regulatory burden, cost and delays, and impede progress to a circular economy," ACC said in its comments.

While ACC is out with its views, there also are additional public comments on the EPA website. And some support the idea.

"I strongly agree with the new rules being proposed. Strong regulation and oversight is needed for these and many more chemicals that are being used in the production of plastic products," one comment from a private citizen states. "So many are toxic for humans and the environment individually and when mixed with other chemicals. Please create these rules and continue to create more, as there are already thousands of chemicals in our air, water, soil, products we use — making us sick."

Publication date: 21/08/2023

Plastics News - automotive

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Last update: 2022-01-31