Plastics industry groups are urging the federal government to include funding to develop chemical recycling technologies in a new grant program set up under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The industry push, however, is meeting with resistance from conservation groups, who want the Environmental Protection Agency to steer clear of chemical recycling as it decides how to spend $275 million to help local post-consumer materials management programs.
The debate is playing out in formal comments to EPA on how it should administer the Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling grant program that was part of the $1 trillion infrastructure law that President Joe Biden signed in November 2021.
More than 170 groups, cities and private citizens offered a range of suggestions to the agency, from more funding for material recovery facilities to better recycling data collection.
Some groups such as Beyond Plastics are against chemical recycling.
“We recognize that improvements to recycling, after waste reduction and reuse, are necessary,” the group said. “For the EPA’s purposes of these programs, it is essential to make the distinction between mechanical recycling and so-called ‘chemical’ and/or ‘advanced’ recycling.”
Instead of using grant funds for chemical recycling, Beyond Plastics believes it should be directed at helping public institutions with the cost of purchasing reusable food and drink containers. The group was started in 2019 by a former regional EPA administrator, Judith Enck.
But other groups such as the American Chemistry Council are in support of using chemical recycling.
“Advanced recycling plays a critical role in enabling the conversion of mixed plastics material streams back into their basic molecular components, especially for what has been considered ‘harder-to-recycle’ plastics. Using advanced recycling, these harder-to-recycle plastics can be remade into new plastics and other products again,” it said.
The Flexible Packaging Association and the Plastics Industry Association also urged EPA to include chemical recycling in the grant program.
As well, ACC recommends the EPA use a significant amount of the funding towards creating what are called secondary processing centers. They operate as second-level materials recovery facilties to sort through lower-value plastics that primary MRFs find hard to process, but some question their economic viability.
ACC argue the grants for them would help evaluate technologies and provide more consistent and high-quality sources of post-use plastics feedstocks.
The Plastics Industry Association also wrote in its comment that the EPA should focus on bringing awareness to plastic material recycling. They, along with other organizations and groups, want EPA to use the grants to improve technologies.
“Improving the management of post-consumer materials will require a portfolio of solutions to be able to respond to the specific needs of states, territories, tribes, local governments, and communities,” the plastics association said.
As well, those plastics groups and the U.S. Plastics Pact all told the EPA money should be used on upgrading MRFs in general.
The plastic pact also said grants should be available to improve data collection, including things such as national waste composition studies, data of primary material types and reprocessing capacity. The pact also said that “grant funds could be used to help establish regional market development organizations where they do not currently exist.”
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