Innovation

Department of Energy’s Plastic Innovation Challenge Continues to Support Recycling and Sustainability

A newly-announced $14.5 million funding opportunity will support research and development to cut waste and reduce the energy used to recycle single-use plastics like plastic bags, wraps, and films.

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) multiyear Plastic Innovation Challenge, first launched in November 2019, recently announced a $14.5 million funding opportunity to spur further research and development to improve the recyclability of plastic film, a common item used in food preservation and packaging, and to fund the redesign of these films so they can be recycled and reused an unlimited number of times. The announcement builds upon a $27 million funding opportunity for plastics recycling research and development announced last October coined by the DOE as the BOTTLE: “Bio-Optimized Technologies to Keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment.”

The DOE’s support of plastic innovation is crucial to bridging the gap between existing capabilities and new and promising solutions in recyclability and reusability of plastics. The program has already funded numerous advancements ,including the study and development of new, easily recyclable plastics and ongoing research by universities like the University of Delaware’s Circular Economy of Composites enabled by TUFF Technology, which received a  $2,5 million grant in 2020. The research will aid in achieving a circular plastics economy, a key goal in diverting the millions of plastic containers that would otherwise end up in landfills. In a press release response to the announcement, PLASTICS President and CEO Tony Radoszewski called the announcement “a great first step” further explaining that “the plastics industry will continue to work with the Biden Administration and Congress to ensure that continued investment in America’s recycling infrastructure is included in any upcoming federal infrastructure package.”

The most recent funding opportunity will complement work already underway by industry to tackle the problem of plastic waste and pollution and is an example of government investment that aids rather than impedes or slows advancements in recycling. In announcing the grant, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm touched on the role plastic recycling investments play in creating American manufacturing jobs while reducing plastic waste in our everyday lives. The funding also aims to spur innovations that reduce the energy used in the recycling of plastics. This would further reduce the lifecycle emissions of plastics, increase plastic sustainability and further the already numerous advantages over other materials used in areas like food packaging and storage. The funding will also further strengthen investments in advanced recycling, which aims to repurpose post-consumer plastics into new, valuable products and raw materials.

Despite the prevalence of misguided efforts by groups opposed to plastics innovation and onerous legislation which would curtail plastics investment and by extension American manufacturing jobs, the continued investments in research and development from the DOE under the Biden Administration underscores the importance of collaboration between government, industry and other stakeholders to work collectively together to address the root causes of plastic waste and promote solutions that work.

A complementary public-private effort

Plastics are vital to the U.S. economy and will play a role in strengthening America’s infrastructure. With the support of groups like the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a multi-sector grouping of over 80 companies dedicated to ending plastic waste, and bipartisan policy solutions like the RECOVER Act, legislation that encourages public-private partnership in recycling investments, work is well underway to bring about the next generation of solutions that will move us closer, rather than further away, to a multi-stakeholder and technologically enabled solution to reduce and ultimately end plastic waste.

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