June 17, 2022

EPA Considers Tighter Regulations On Chemical Recycling of Plastics

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently expressed concerns around the lack of regulations involving “chemical recycling.” The key to understanding why the EPA wants to regulate chemical recycling is to understand what it is in the first place. Chemical recycling is the process of “taking single use plastics and stripping them down to their chemical state to create new products such as fuel or more plastics” (Crunden, 2022). EPA’s  main concern with this process is its potentially misleading name. The term “recycling” implies a circular economy. However, instead of “turning used plastic into new plastic products, chemical recycling usually involves melting plastic into oil and gas to be burned” (Winters, 2021). Plastics being converted into fuel does not contribute to the circular economy, while it does give a second useful life to the materials. This is why some people argue that the term recycling should not be used for chemical recycling. The EPA currently has regulations for pyrolysis (the process being used by most chemical recycling facilities), but there are certain scenarios that exempt a facility from complying with those regulations. For example if your pyrolysis operation is located in a plastic/rubber recycling facility or you are disposing of medical waste, it is no longer necessary to worry about the EPA’s municipal solid waste pollution regulations. People who support the EPA tightening regulations want them to label chemical recycling instead as solid waste incineration. This is because there are already tight regulations for solid waste incineration. Jim Pew, an attorney for the nonprofit organization Earthjustice, argues: “If you want to burn municipal waste, meet the Clean Air Act standards for municipal waste incinerators. If you want to burn industrial waste, meet the Clean Air Act standards for industrial waste” (Winters, 2021). Some industry groups including the American Chemical Council (ACC) are opposed to legislation that would change the classification and regulation of chemical recycling. The ACC thinks that chemical recycling is already well-regulated and tighter regulations will handicap states trying to expand their chemical recycling facilities. This argument by the ACC pertains only to the plastic-to-plastic sector of chemical recycling (rather than plastic-to-fuel). However, only 8 out of 40 chemical recycling sites listed by the EPA deal with mixed plastics, the others convert plastic to fuel (Crunden, 2022). This fct has led EPA regulators and environmental advocates to consider tying chemical recycling plants to tighter regulations that reduce the release of greenhouse gasses and carcinogens into local communities. 

Why this matters for CIRT 

Tighter restrictions on chemical recycling of plastics may encourage  more facilities to engage in plastic-to-plastic processing instead of plastic-to-fuel. This would likely cause shifts in what kinds of plastics are accepted in areas where chemical recycling is used. CIRT’s real-time recycling platform can help manufacturers anticipate these shifts and adjust their processes accordingly. CIRT’s platform will also communicate changing rules to consumers and avoid contamination of recycling loads in the wake of accepted materials adjustments.


Crunden, E. (2022, February 28). 'Failure' or solution? EPA weighs plastics recycling plan. E&E News. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from 

https://www.eenews.net/articles/failure-or-solution-epa-weighs-plastics-recycling plan/ 

Winters, J., & Yoder, K. (2021, October 5). EPA might finally regulate the plastic industry's favorite kind of 'recycling'. Grist. Retrieved June 8, 2022, from 

https://grist.org/regulation/epa-might-finally-regulate-the-plastic-industrys-favorite -kind-of-recycling/