- The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has recently announced its position on chemical recycling, saying its definition does not include plastics-to-fuel technology as recycling. It announced the position after adopting the language during its July board meeting.
- In its first official policy position on the issue, ISRI says it does not recognize the term “advanced recycling,” a name more commonly used in the plastics industry, saying the term creates a “totally inappropriate and untruthful” distinction and does not adequately recognize advancements made in mechanical recycling technologies such as robotics and AI.
- ISRI joined other recycing and plastic organizations in advocating for only using chemical recycling technologies for creating new feedstocks for manufacturing, such as “recycled resins and monomers.”
ISRI’s announcement comes as more industries are investing in chemical recycling technologies and some environmentalists decry the process as a potential source of pollution that relies too much on virgin plastics production.
At the same time, numerous states have passed laws reclassifying advanced recycling as a manufacturing process rather than solid waste management. The American Chemistry Council has backed such laws, now operational in more than 20 states, including recently in Mississippi and West Virginia. Matthew Kastner, director of media relations for ACC’s plastics division, said the organization will “definitely be advocating” for similar laws to pass in more states in 2023.
Komie Jain, ISRI’s senior vice president of advocacy, policy, and regulation, said such laws create a patchwork of regulations with various definitions and applications. ISRI felt it was important to issue a policy statement that urges the industry to accept common definitions and understandings of the technology, she said.
ISRI’s position states it “fully supports” policies that recognize the distinction between recycling and solid waste management, but does not support policies where “non-mechanical recycling is considered manufacturing and mechanical recycling is not.”
In general, the recycling industry describes mechanical recycling as the process of using machinery to sort and process plastics, while chemical recycling uses processes like heat, solvents or other methods that break down the molecular bonds of plastics.
“As we are seeing greater discussions happening, whether it be policy or legislation at both the federal and state level, we want to make sure that we're talking about the same things. Definitions are critical,” Jain said.
ISRI says it supports both public and private investments in “efforts aimed at developing new recycling processes and technologies” as long as those processes result in new feedstocks meant for “the manufacture of material products and not in the production of energy or fuels.”
Joshua Baca, ACC’s vice president of plastics, did not comment directly on ISRI’s overall policy, but in an email said ACC agrees that “only new plastics produced through advanced recycling should count as recycling.” He added that some “first generation” companies once used advanced recycling technologies to make fuel, but no longer focus on that industry because of increased demand from brand owners to use more recycled plastic in their products or packaging.
Others in the recycling industry have clarified their views on the issue in recent months. The Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers, a group of nonprofit MRF operators, calls plastics-to-fuel technologies a “false solution” that harms the environment. In a statement, AMBR says the industry should first reduce overall plastic production and invest in reuse systems while “scaling up mechanical plastics recycling processors, businesses, and technologies,” the group said.
The group acknowledges that plastics-to-plastics chemical recycling technology “could become complementary to mechanical recycling if they can be proven to be environmentally sustainable and economically viable.”
Both ISRI and ACC say the conversation around chemical or advanced recycling has become more topical in recent years as industries make more investments in the technology. This year, several recycling facilities as well as major plastics manufacturers have announced investments in chemical recycling equipment and facilities in coming years. Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA is working on a formal rulemaking process to determine how to regulate pyrolysis and gasification units, which currently are classified as waste combustion under the Clean Air Act, and mentions chemical recycling in its National Recycling Strategy.