On July 28, 2020, non-governmental organization (NGO) Global Initiative for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) published a report investigating chemical recycling in the United States. This report builds on its earlier June 2020 report on the issue (FPF reported) and focuses on providing “an assessment of failed, proposed, and existing projects in the United States.” It is highly critical of facilities that process waste plastics for conversion into fuel and writes that only ‘plastic-to-plastic’ recycling processes “truly qualify as recycling operations and we reject the use of the term [‘chemical recycling] for plants that mainly produce plastic-to-fuel.” The report presents a set of key findings based on public data, including that only 3 of the 37 chemical recycling facilities proposed since the early 2000’s are currently operational “and none are successfully recovering plastic to produce new plastic.” It further argues that “under the guise of ‘chemical’ or ‘advanced’ recycling, the industry is lobbying for and advancing development of plastic-to-fuel (PTF) facilities that will only make the plastic crisis worse while diverting public and private investment dollars away from real solutions.”

In a statement released by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the industry association defends the opportunities that advanced recycling technologies such as chemical recycling present. “Advanced plastics recycling is not only viable at commercial scale but also offers significant economic opportunities as we move toward greater circularity for plastic.” It presents results valuing recovery and recycling of plastic packaging in the US at $2 to $4 billion per year and an LCA study calculating the pyrolysis of mixed plastic waste as emitting 50% less CO2 than incineration. “We agree that everyone has a role to play in ending plastic waste, including the plastics value chain, government, recyclers, NGOs and citizens. Solving this problem will require a variety of solutions, and we believe advanced recycling is an essential part of the mix.”

Read More

GAIA (July 28, 2020). “All Talk and No Recycling: An Investigation of the U.S. “Chemical Recycling” Industry.”

ACC (July 29, 2020). “Advanced Recycling Already Providing a Sustainable Path to a Circular Economy for Plastics.”

Karen Laird (July 29, 2020). “GAIA calls US chemical recycling initiatives an ‘industry greenwashing tactic’.” Sustainable Plastics

E.A. Crunden (August 3, 2020). “Chemical recycling gaining limited traction so far, too focused on plastic-to-fuel, report finds.” Waste Dive

Mohammad Hayatifar (August 6, 2020). “Guest Column: How chemical recycling can help build a safer circular economy.” Chemical Watch


GAIA (July 28, 2020). “All Talk and No Recycling: An Investigation of the U.S. “Chemical Recycling” Industry.” (pdf)