Report targets ‘advanced recycling’ as PR myth

NH the only New England state to pass legislation that creates loopholes in the advanced recycling industry

For decades, the fossil fuel and plastics industries have pushed for “advanced recycling,” a technology that could be used to break down single-use plastics, but a report by an environmental nonprofit says the effort is more gimmick than science.

The report, “Loopholes, Injustice, and the ‘Advanced Recycling’ Myth,” published by Kevin Budris, senior counsel and program director of Just Zero, says producing less plastic is a better solution than costly lobbying campaigns for recycling technologies that negatively impact the environment.

The report also details the lobbying efforts of the American Chemistry Council, a trade association for fossil fuel and plastic corporations, to create state laws like the one in New Hampshire that allow advanced recycling operations to circumvent oversight and environmental protections.

Advanced recycling, also known as chemical recycling, uses heat or chemical reactions to break down plastic, especially difficult-to-recycle plastics like shrink wrap, into a soup-like consistency that plastic manufacturers say can be used to make new plastics or burned as fuel.

Heidi Trimarco, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said the concept of advanced recycling is concerning, because it is rare to see a recycled product emerge from the process.

“It’s a real greenwashing term,” said Trimarco. “It almost always is incineration.”

The American Chemistry Council says the technology is a vital step toward transitioning from linear models of “make, use, dispose” to a circular economy that allows for more plastic recycling. Some of the largest companies in the fossil fuel and plastic industries are members of the council, including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron and Reliance Industries.

“While the misleading and inaccurate claims made by Just Zero may help them raise donor funds, they have no bearing on our ongoing work to keep plastics in our economy and out of our environment,” said Joshua Baca, American Chemistry Council’s vice president of plastics, in response to the nonprofit’s report on advanced recycling.

Mechanical recycling can only handle certain types of plastics, materials like the flexible plastic used in toy packaging or single-use bags cannot be recycled in the traditional way. Advanced recycling could be one way to address the grow ing volume of plastic waste, said Reagan Bissonnette, executive director of the Northeast Resource Recovery Association. However, she said reducing the amount of plastic manufactured in the first place is the best approach.

According to the report, the fossil fuel industry has managed to lobby for legal loopholes in 20 states that make it cheaper and easier for them to run.

One of the laws that works in favor of these facilities is that advanced recycling is regulated as “manufacturing” although, in theory, they operate similarly to solid waste and recycling facilities. This means that advanced recycling operations are immune from citing restrictions, reporting requirements, permitting processes and public involvement.

New Hampshire is one of them. It is also the only New England state that has passed legislation that creates loopholes in the advanced recycling industry.

In an effort to remove plastics from landfills, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed SB 367 into law in June.

Although there aren’t any advanced recycling facilities in the state, Budris said New Hampshire has “rolled out the red carpet” for the industry to set up shop here.

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