‘Advanced’ Plastic Recycling Is Costly and Polluting: Study

"Industry is pursuing various technologies to help solve the global plastic waste problem, but environmentalists say new recycling techniques only make environmental problems worse."

"The plastics industry’s quest to solve the problem of plastic waste through so-called “advanced” recycling—using chemical additives and sometimes extremely high heat to turn waste back into new plastics—is costly and comes with significant environmental impacts, according to new research from the federal government’s National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado.

Government researchers singled out two prominent “advanced” technologies—pyrolysis and gasification—as particularly problematic, saying they should not even be considered “closed-loop” recycling technologies. These technologies require large amounts of energy and emit significant pollutants and greenhouse gases to turn discarded plastics into oil or fuel, or chemicals such as benzene, toluene and xylene, synthetic gases and a carbon char waste product.

So far, 21 states have enacted laws sought by the U.S. plastics industry that categorize advanced plastics recycling as a manufacturing process and not waste disposal. But environmentalists say using plastic waste to make new fossil fuels or feedstocks for more plastic further damages the environment and worsens climate change.

Other forms of chemical recycling fared better than pyrolysis and gasification in the new research, but the more traditional method of recycling—using mechanical means to sort, clean, shred and remold waste plastic—performed better on economic and environmental parameters than emerging methods, although it still has technical limitations, the researchers found."

James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News January 19, 2023.

Source: Inside Climate News, 01/19/2023