Advanced plastics recycling legislation offers win for environment and the economy

Upon their post-election return to Harrisburg, the General Assembly can put up a unifying policy “win” by clearing the way for advanced recycling of waste plastics in Pennsylvania. The bill, HB 1808, would make a simple change in regulatory classification to expand a burgeoning industry that almost everyone can support, as evidenced by the 46 Democrats who helped the House Republican majority send the legislation to the Senate this past July.

By classifying the new plants as manufacturing and not waste facilities, the legislation will encourage investment in an industry that will help eliminate the ugly sight of plastic wrappers, shopping bags, and other plastic waste from our roads, streams, and fields. These new businesses use a thermal decomposition process (pyrolysis) to transform the plastic waste into feedstock for new products. And, this new industry that will provide family-sustaining jobs will need a workforce.

“This is another example of how market-based solutions can create jobs while being good stewards of nature. Advanced plastics recycling will help reduce litter, in much the same way that natural gas production has helped reduce air pollutants,” said PMA President & CEO, David N. Taylor.

The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh/Berks), would give prospective investors confidence in Pennsylvania’s regulatory stability, proponents say. At the same time, the legislation also clarifies that these new facilities will be fully compliant with all Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permitting requirements.

Pyrolysis occurs in a closed system. No oxygen is burned, and no emissions are created. In the process, the molecular structure of the plastic waste is transformed, and the resulting virgin product can be used as feedstock for other products or even low sulfur fuel. Currently, the wrappers, shopping bags and other plastics designated in the industry as #3-#7 plastics are incinerated or end up in landfills, or if not captured, litter our landscape. A strong recycling industry already exists for plastics designated as #1 and #2. These plastic products include, but are not limited to, soda bottles, milk jugs, and laundry detergent bottles.

“While this technology may be new to Pennsylvania, across the country, private companies are already manufacturing post-use plastics at a commercial scale into a versatile mix of new chemicals, feedstocks, products and more environmentally friendly transportation fuels,” said Abby Foster, President of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council (PCIC). “For example, Shell Chemicals is using a liquid feedstock made from plastic waste, supplied by Nexus Fuels, in its chemical plant in Norco, LA to make a range of new products.”

Foster added that in April, Pennsylvania made the short list of a search by Brightmark Energy to land a $1 billion advanced plastic recycling facility. This facility is expected to manufacture 200,000 tons of waste plastics annually into new products. The regulatory certainty provided by HB 1808 will be a big boost in Pennsylvania’s favor, Foster said.

And a Montgomery County company is looking to develop the former Titus Generating Station in Berks County into an advanced plastics recycling facility.

It would be the first facility in the United States for ReFined Plastics LLC, the company’s President and Chief Technology Officer Joe D’Ascenzo told the Reading Eagle. The plant, a $120 million investment, could be up and running as early as 2022.

According to the American Chemistry Council, converting just 25 percent of the recoverable post-use plastics in Pennsylvania could support ten advanced recycling manufacturing facilities, resulting in $314 million in new economic output annually.

Some environmental groups oppose the legislation arguing that it doesn’t move society away from plastics, just as they argue that fracking doesn’t move us away from fossil fuels. Never mind that the development of plastics and affordable, abundant energy have been foundational to the advancement of agriculture, medicine, and industry – in short, all human progress over the last century. Just as the natural gas revolution has cut CO2 emissions to all-time lows since 1992.

Mackenzie responds to the few critics of his bill by explaining that the process not only reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills but is carbon neutral; it doesn’t burn plastics but uses pressure in the recycling process. And, he said, that DEP supports the current language in the bill.

“Advanced recycling helps both the environment and our economy by providing jobs for Pennsylvanians and taking plastics out of our waste stream” Mackenzie said. “HB 1808 would update our permitting process to keep our state up-to-date with developing industries to continue innovation in the marketplace.”

PCIC provided a list of some of the announced and operational facilities within the U.S. (many more plants are operating or planned globally). Let’s hope this list expands and is inclusive of new sites in Pennsylvania.

• Agilyx, Oregon (Operational 2013)
• Nexus Fuels, Georgia (Operational 2013)
• PK Clean, Utah (Operational, 2014)
• Vadxx, Ohio (Operational 2016)
• Golden Renewable Energy, New York (Operational 2016)
• New Hope Energy, Texas (Operational 2017)
• Agilyx, Oregon (Operational 2018)
• Renewlogy, Utah (Operational 2018)
• Brightmark Energy, Indiana (Operational 2020)
• Renewlogy, Arizona (Under Construction, Expected 2020)
• Agilyx, Pennsylvania (Construction Expected, 2021)
• Brightmark, TBD (Construction Expected, 2021)
• Agilyx, Illinois (Expected 2021)
• Agilyx, California (Expected 2021)