Plastic pollution is a threat to our planet and our health. Every year at least 15 million tons of plastic waste enter our oceans. Plastic also pollutes our air, our soil, our drinking water and our food. Recent studies have found that adults use roughly the same amount of plastic as a credit card every week, and microplastics have been found in the human placenta. Few people are aware that plastic is also accelerating the climate crisis in every step of its life cycle, from extraction through production to use and disposal. If plastic were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.
But instead of reducing plastic production – the only real solution to our plastic waste crisis – the Chemistry Council of New Jersey is pushing for “advanced recycling,” a deeply flawed approach that would allow the industry to continue to grow plastic overproduction while paying lip service to it have service to solve the problem. The US is already littered with expensive, high profile, advanced recycling bugs. We don’t need any more of these polluting and ineffective facilities in New Jersey.
“Advanced” or “chemical recycling” is a process that theoretically breaks plastic waste down into its molecular components in order to turn them back into new plastics to support a “circular economy,” but it was a failure that even the pro-plastics industry saw – Plastics Today publication questions its worth and viability. One of the most famous failures is Loop Industries, which claimed it could recycle plastics “infinitely” but was not found to be a viable technology. In 2020, the company was charged with fraud, shares collapsed, and Loop is now facing class action lawsuits. This may seem unique, but of the 37 chemical recycling plants proposed in the US since 2000, only three are in operation. Of these three plants, two convert plastic waste into low-quality, highly polluting fuel and not into new one
“Unproven and expensive”
In addition to being unproven and expensive, advanced recycling is a major source of greenhouse gases and air pollution. It emits three tons of CO2 per ton of processed plastic and toxic substances, including carcinogenic, endocrine and immune-damaging dioxins and furans, heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead, and particulate matter.
Whether advanced recycling, chemical recycling, gasification, waste incineration or pyrolysis – the data shows that these approaches will neither solve our plastic pollution crisis nor slow down climate change. But they will consume the time, energy, and government funds necessary to address them in a timely manner and avoid catastrophic effects on our health and the environment.
While I’m not surprised plastic and chemical companies are backing these boondoggles, I’m surprised Congregation member John F. McKeon tabled bill that would exempt this risky technology from existing solid waste and recycling regulations in New Jersey. Whom does it serve?
As the demand for fossil fuels for power generation and transportation declines, the petrochemical industry is betting on massive expansion of the production and sale of plastics made from ethane, a by-product of cheap hydraulic fracturing gas, to prop up its declining profits – a Ave Maria for the entire industry. The industry is investing billions of dollars in plastics manufacturing equipment, including new pipelines, injection wells, railroad lines, ports, and ethane crackers. This expansion is focused on low-income and colored communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as Louisiana and Texas, where petrochemical pollution has made residents sick for decades – the region is called “Cancer Alley” for a reason.
Approximately 40% of newly manufactured plastics are single-use, and the vast majority of it will end up in landfills or in burned, low-income communities and paint communities, exposing residents to the second-round of toxic air pollution from plastic. The rest is shipped overseas to developing countries that lack the appropriate infrastructure. Watch the documentary The Story of Plastic to see up close what really happens to your old yogurt containers, beverage bottles, toothpaste tubes, and potato chips.
While it is not surprising that the petrochemical industry is doing all it can to prevent the reduction of plastic sources, it is imperative that New Jersey state lawmakers adopt the concept of plastic reduction as a key solution to our rapidly escalating plastic waste and climate change assumes crises.
Congregation member McKeon, who has otherwise good environmental experience, would serve the New Jersey people better by withdrawing his bill (A-5803) in support of advanced recycling and instead focusing on advancing solutions that actually work: reuse , Refilling, and reducing plastic production. We cannot afford to waste any more time or money on advanced recycling or other wrong solutions that are frivolously promoted by the plastics industry. We have to turn off the plastic tap.