This Is Plastics: Our Industry Is Investing Billions to Scale Up Recycling Technologies


Our Industry Is Investing Billions to Scale Up Recycling Technologies

Plastics industry leaders are investing heavily in innovative technologies and stand ready to collaborate to tackle plastic waste.


Plastics are the most sustainable choice for manufacturing products. Period. Just look at the life cycle assessment data. Their unmatched properties and versatility have allowed for incredible innovations that improve lives while conserving resources.

Does plastic waste happen? Yes. But stifling incredible innovation through the elimination of plastic isn’t the way to deal with it. Plastic is essential to achieving a truly circular economy, so our waste solutions need to focus keeping plastic in the economy and ensuring plastic waste stays out of the environment.  Advanced recycling technologies are just one of the important and proven solutions to plastic waste, especially for processing hard-to-recycle plastics like wrappers and detergent bottles.

Recognizing the importance of advanced recycling, companies like ExxonMobil are making huge investments in advanced recycling facilities. Policymakers at every level should be encouraging  investment in these technologies as part of a global solution to addressing plastic waste.  

A proven solution

Advanced recycling uses chemicals or heat to break down hard-to-recycle plastic products into their original polymers, which can then be used to create new products. While traditional mechanical recycling already helps create new uses for many discarded plastics, advanced recycling expands the possibilities of recycling, enabling us to recycle more complex plastics a limitless number of times without degrading their strength.

Initial advanced recycling technologies and other recycling facilities have become successful because of the billions of dollars the plastics industry has invested in them. Companies are now at a point where they can begin scaling up these successful projects, increasing the supply of commercially available recycled plastic content. This will help satisfy the rising demand for recycled plastic to be used in all sorts of consumer goods. Having such end markets will get us closer and closer to circularity and sustainability goals by extending plastics’ sustainable life cycle.

Not only does advanced recycling ensure infinite reuse of valuable plastic products, these technologies are also the most environmentally friendly way to recycle. For instance, pyrolysis, a type of advanced recycling, emits up to 50 percent less CO2 than other types of recycling.

New investments

In December 2022, ExxonMobil announced the successful startup of its advanced recycling facility in Baytown, Texas to offer commercial-grade, post-consumer, recycled plastic resin. The facility can process up to 80 million pounds of plastic per year, or nearly 220,000 pounds per day. That’s the equivalent of about 16 million plastic bags per day that can be turned into new plastic bags or other products like toothpaste tubes and detergent bottles.

Since ExxonMobil began pilot operations in 2021, the facility has already recycled nearly 15 million pounds of plastic waste. The company has plans for the near future to build additional advanced recycling facilities all over the world, with the goal of processing up to 1 billion pounds of plastic per year, or nearly 2.75 million pounds per day.

That’s an effort that includes collaboration with third parties to assess the potential for both large-scale implementation of advanced recycling and improvements to plastic waste collection and sorting in Malaysia and Indonesia. The willingness of all involved to get the job done demonstrates just how ready industry is to continue moving forward on reducing waste and increasing recycling rates.

Government must support policies that increase access to recycling

While the plastics industry is leading the way in innovative waste management, efforts to invest in and support advanced recycling need an equal level of commitment from policymakers across the globe. Government must be a supportive partner in these investments and create policies that make recycling easier, not more difficult. Previously proposed U.S. legislation, like the Protecting Communities from Plastics Act, threaten our recycling infrastructure by seeking to place moratoriums on new permits for advanced recycling and even plastics facilities, decreasing access to recycling and—in turn—recycled content. Recycling offers a real solution to plastic waste, and future legislation must strive to invest in, not stifle, industry innovation.

We are not anti-legislation

The plastics industry welcomes legislation that helps reduce plastic waste in the environment when the legislation has clear goals that address root problems. The revamped Save Our Seas 2.0 Amendment Act, for example, will help manage plastic waste without reducing access to this vital material. State-level laws—like Virginia’s recently passed law to support advanced recycling—make it easier to recycle plastics and provide an example of good, actionable waste management policy for other state governments.

Proven innovative solutions like advanced recycling technologies are critical to addressing plastic waste in the United States and across the globe. As international policymakers negotiate a global agreement  on plastics, they should seek to encourage global collaboration and investment that bans pollution, not plastic.

Companies like ExxonMobil are ready to scale up proven technologies to reduce plastic waste and recycle at a level never seen before. Consumers and governments around the world must support industry efforts that will help us ensure that all plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment.

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