ISRI rejects ‘advanced recycling’ label, says plastic-to-fuel projects shouldn’t be considered recycling

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Diving brief:

  • The Institute of Scrap Metal Recycling Industries recently announced its position on chemical recyclingclaiming that its definition does not include the technology of turning plastics into fuel as recycling. He announced the position after adopting the language at his July board meeting.
  • In its first official policy position on the issue, ISRI states it does not recognize the term “advanced recycling”, a name more commonly used in the plastics industry, claiming that the term creates a “totally inappropriate and misleadingdistinction and does not adequately recognize advances in mechanical recycling technologies such as robotics and AI.
  • ISRI has joined other recycling and plastic organizations in advocating only use chemical recycling technologies to create new raw materials for manufacturing, such as « recycled resins and monomers.”

Overview of the dive:

ISRI’s announcement comes as more industries invest in chemical recycling technologies and some environmentalists decry the process as a potential source of pollution that relies too heavily on the production of virgin plastics.

At the same time, many 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 certainly advocate” for similar laws to be passed in more states in 2023.

ISRI Senior Vice President of Advocacy Komie Jain, policy and regulation, said these laws create a patchwork of regulations with varying definitions and applications. ISRI felt it was important to issue a policy statement that urges the industry to agree to common definitions and understandings of technology, she said.

ISRI’s position says 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 machines to sort and process plastics, while chemical recycling uses processes such as heat, solvents, or other methods that break down plastics. molecular bonds of plastics.

“As we see more and more discussions taking place, whether it’s policy or law at the federal and state level, we want to make sure we’re talking about the same things. Definitions are key,” said Jain.

ISRI says it supports public and private investment in “efforts to develop new recycling processes and technologies” as long as these processes result in new raw materials for “the manufacture of material products and not 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, ACC agrees that “only new plastics produced through advanced recycling should be considered as recycling. He added that some “first generation” companies have used advanced recycling technologies to make fuel, but no longer focus on this industry due to growing demand from brand owners to use more recycled plastic in their products or packaging.

Other players in the recycling industry have clarified their views on the issue in recent months. The Alliance of Mission-Based Recyclers, a non-profit MRF operator group, calls plastics-to-fuel technologies a “false solution” that harms the environment. In A declaration, AMBR says the industry should first reduce overall plastic production and invest in reuse systems while “developing processors, companies and technologies for mechanical plastic recycling”, the group said.

The group recognizes that plastics-to-plastics chemical recycling technology “could become complementary to mechanical recycling if it can be proven to be environmentally sustainable and economically viable.”

ISRI and ACC say the conversation about chemical or advanced recycling has become more topical in recent years as industries invest more in technology. This year, several recycling facilities as well as major plastics manufacturers have announced investments in chemical recycling equipment and facilities over the next few years. Meanwhile, the US EPA is working on a official regulatory process to determine how to regulate pyrolysis and gasification units, which are currently classified as waste combustion under the Clean Air Act, and mentions chemical recycling in its National Recycling Strategy.

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