Companies that manufacture, use, dispose of, and recycle plastics need to participate in international efforts to limit plastic waste and chemicals used to make plastics as the guidelines affect the way they do business, industry officials said.
Recent and predicted global restrictions on plastic were among the topics discussed at the Global Chemical Regulations Conference this week. The annual meeting was attended by companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp., Occidental Chemical Corp., Royal Dutch Shell plc, as well as legal, advisory, and chemical testing firms, as well as US and international government agencies.
Industry commitment to plastic policy initiatives is essential, according to speakers including Anastasia Swearingen, director of global affairs at the American Chemistry Council, who organized the conference.
Initiatives include a meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly next February to consider a legally binding deal to tackle plastic pollution, said Chever X. Voltmer, Ocean Conservancy’s director of plastic initiatives. The assembly, which consists of 193 member states, is the United Nations’ highest international decision-making body on environmental issues.
One of the goals of the deal is to stop leakage from landfills and other sources of 11 tons of plastic per year into the ocean, where it harms marine life and habitats, she said.
Supporting expanded producer responsibility and creating a waste management system that incentivizes recycling are among the measures the industry should support, she said.
“What the industry does by then can have a significant impact on what countries consider appropriate in the treaty,” said Voltmer, who previously oversaw the problems with marine debris in the State Department.
In Congress, MP Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) And Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) Last month passed the Plastic Pollution Elimination Act (HR 2238, p. 984), which would mandate packaging manufacturers. Containers and food service products for designing, managing and financing waste and recycling programs.
The Chemicals Council has criticized the bill, saying it would “undermine America’s manufacturing resilience and our ability to recover economically after a crisis,” causing a shortage of essential materials and blocking advanced recycling technologies.
Investment of $ 5 billion
However, the industry is taking steps to address the plastic pollution problem and has invested more than $ 5 billion in initiatives over the past three years, said Chris Jahn, president and CEO of the Chemicals Council.
“We are using these contributions to modernize the US recycling infrastructure and to expand the types and quantities of plastics that can be reused or integrated into a circular economy,” said Jahn.
Examples include Brightmark LLC’s $ 260 million plastic renewal plant, which is being built to convert 100,000 tons of plastic waste into fuel and other materials. Eastman Chemical Co.’s $ 250 million polyester renewal plant to convert 100,000 tons of plastic waste into specialty plastics; and PureCycle Technologies LLC’s $ 250 million backup funding to build a facility to convert waste at £ 105 million a year, known as “Ultra-Pure Recycled Polypropylene”.
Plastic is too valuable a raw material to be wasted, said Michael Witt, corporate sustainability director at Dow Inc.
Other initiatives discussed at the conference include efforts to globally restrict the use of a plastic additive. Canada’s proposal to ban or restrict certain single-use plastics; a proposal from the European Commission to tighten the rules for polymers from which plastic and other materials are made; and an amendment to the Basel Convention that began to control the trade in plastic waste effective January 1.
The proposed justification for regulating some of the chemicals in question – including a widely used plastic additive, UV-328 – could have serious implications for other chemicals, according to other speakers.
A committee advising the Stockholm Convention ruled in January that BASF SE’s UV-328 met the convention’s criteria for a possible restriction, said Martin Kayser, the company’s senior vice president of product safety.
The treaty targets chemicals that linger in the environment for years, accumulate in the food chain, are toxic and circulate around the world. UV-328 meets many of these criteria but does not meet the definition of the Convention for Long-Distance Global Transport, Kayser said.
Under the convention, a chemical could qualify for long-distance transportation if it moves through air, water, or migrant species, said Karissa Kovner, a senior EPA policy advisor on international affairs. However, the committee ruled that UV-328 will be transported over sea debris, a means not discussed in the contract and a rationale that the agency has concerns about, she said.
Using a chemical in sea debris as a means of meeting the contract’s transportation criteria would set a “dangerous precedent for many more chemicals,” Kayser said. And the science about UV-328 doesn’t support that conclusion, he said.
The next step is for the same committee to review the economic and social impact of the UV-328 restriction.