Environment

Industry is already investing billions to scale up recycling technologies

Recognizing the importance of these technologies, companies like ExxonMobil are investing millions in advanced recycling facilities.

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Plastics are already the most sustainable choice from a life cycle assessment perspective for products across sectors, and better management of plastic waste can help achieve a truly circular economy. 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 these technologies, companies like ExxonMobil are investing millions in advanced recycling facilities. Now, policies at the state and federal level should encourage these technologies as part of a robust recycling plan to address plastic waste.  

A Proven Solution

Advanced recycling technologies use 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 mechanical recycling already helps create new uses for discarded plastics, advanced recycling can infinitely recycle plastic products without damaging polymer chains, making it a valuable technology and vital to addressing plastic waste.

Initial advanced recycling technologies and other recycling facilities have become successful because of the billions of dollars that the plastics industry has invested. Companies are now ready and are already starting to scale up successful projects which will only increase the supply of commercially available recycled plastic content. This will help satisfy the rising demand for post-use recycled plastic for consumer goods across sectors. Sustainable end markets like this will further support circular economy goals and bring us closer to sustainability goals by extending plastics’ sustainable life cycle.

Not only does advanced recycling ensure infinite reuse of valuable plastic products, but these technologies are also the most environmentally friendly way to recycle. Pyrolysis, a type of advanced recycling technology, emits up to 50% less CO2 than other types of recycling. This makes recycling more sustainable and ensures that all plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment.

New Investments

Most recently, ExxonMobil announced that it will scale up an advanced recycling technology used at its initial trial advanced recycling technology facility in Baytown, Texas to offer commercial grade post-consumer recycled plastic resin. At initial capacity, the new advanced recycling center will process up to 30,000 metric tons of plastic per year, or over 80 metric tons per day. That’s the equivalent of about 16 million plastic bags per day that can be turned into new plastic bags or other vital products like toothpaste tubes and detergent bottles.

The new facility is expected to be operational by 2023, while the original facility will continue to operate—scaling up to meet the increasing demand for recycled content. Over the next five years, the company also plans to build additional advanced recycling facilities all over the world that will process up to 500,000 metric tons of plastic per year, or nearly 275 tons per day. This progress shows just how ready industry is to continue moving forward toward goals to reduce waste and increase recycling rates.

Government Must Support Policies that Increase Access to Recycling

However, efforts to invest in and support advanced recycling technologies need equal commitments from policymakers. Government must be a supportive partner in these investments and create policies that make recycling easier, not more difficult. Currently, two bills in Congress, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and the Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act, threaten our recycling infrastructure. These bills would place moratoriums on new permits for advanced recycling plastics facilities, which would decrease access to recycling as well as recycled content. Worse, these policies would do nothing to reduce waste in the environment. Recycling offers a real solution to plastic waste and government must support new initiatives.

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

Companies like ExxonMobil are ready to scale up proven technologies to plastic waste. Consumers and government 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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