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Big Companies… Big Advances for Plastics Recycling

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Craig Cookson
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Wow.

Two of the biggest companies in the world just announced sizeable plastics recycling initiatives that will use advanced technologies to dramatically increase the amounts and the types of plastics that can be recycled.

graphic construction workers building recycling symbol

These announcements build on the momentum in advanced plastics recycling that I wrote about in June, driven by multiple globally recognized companies and recycling enterprises, including LyondellBassell, Chevron Phillips Chemical, Eastman Chemical, Amsty, Agilyx, and others.

Let’s take a look at these two new (big) announcements.

ExxonMobil

The Irving, Texas, company will build its first large-scale advanced recycling facility in Baytown, Texas, that is expected to start operations by the end of next year. When done, it will be one of the largest plastics recycling facilities in North America, with an initial capacity to recycle 30,000 metric tons of used plastics per year.

And they can expand recycling capacity quickly “if effective policy and regulations that recognize the lifecycle benefits of advanced recycling are implemented for residential and industrial plastic waste collection and sorting systems.” That’s sort of like saying: “Collect more used plastic and we’ll recycle it.”

ExxonMobil has proven its recycling technology. Its smaller, temporary facility is making “certified circular polymers” that will be marketed this year to meet growing demand. The company already “has successfully recycled more than 1,000 metric tons of plastic waste, the equivalent of 200 million grocery bags, and has demonstrated the capability of processing 50 metric tons per day.”  

This is really good news. And it sounds like only the beginning. The company “is developing plans to build approximately 500,000 metric tons of advanced recycling capacity globally over the next five years.”

“Availability of reliable advanced recycling capacity will play an important role in helping address plastic waste in the environment,” said Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, “and we are evaluating wide-scale deployment in other locations around the world.” (emphasis mine)

Imagine a company the size of ExxonMobil creating large scale advanced plastics recycling facilities around the world. And then imagine the positive impact of reusing all that plastic. And keeping it out of landfills and our environment.

Dow

The Midland, Michigan, company announced that it will begin providing “fully circular polymers” – recycled plastics that provide the same performance as virgin plastics – to its customers next year.

The company is gearing up multiple initiatives in the U.S. and Europe to use pyrolysis feedstocks derived from used plastics to make new plastics. For example, a multi-year agreement with New Hope Energy (Tyler, Texas) will supply Dow with pyrolysis oil feedstocks derived from plastics recycled in North America, which Dow will use to make circular plastics.

Dow says these advances “enable plastics that are currently unrecyclable to be recycled, including flexible plastics used in packaging, which today are typically incinerated or sent to landfill.”

This is also really good news. Right now our recycling system has trouble with some of the new plastic packaging that we’ve embraced over the past few decades, such as wraps and resealable pouches. This lightweight, efficient packaging helped decrease the weight and amount of packaging needed to deliver food and drink, which has resulted in notable environmental benefits, such as reduced food waste, less energy use, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

But it complicated recycling.

Fortunately, these new advanced recycling facilities will help us recycle a lot more of these plastics so we can retain the environmental benefits of this modern, efficient packaging.

On to 2030 and 2040

I see these two (and the multiple previously announced) initiatives as significant advances toward achieving the first of our 5 Actions we’ve called on Congress to enact: A requirement that all U.S. plastic packaging contain at least 30% recycled plastic by 2030. And I see them as two more steps toward our goal of recycling, reusing, or recovering all plastic packaging in the U.S. by 2040.

ExxonMobil and Dow are two of the largest companies on Earth. They and all the other plastic makers have the potential to create a better future by moving toward a more circular economy for plastics. An economy that sheds its “make, use, dispose” mentality and embraces reuse. Along with a new way of seeing plastics: as a resource for sustainability.

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About the Author

As Vice President of ACC’s Plastics Division, Joshua oversees strategic programs to advance a science-based policy agenda, national outreach, and sustainability initiatives on behalf of America’s leading plastics makers. He encourages better understanding of plastics’ advantages in key markets, such as automotive, building and construction, and packaging, and innovations that are helping to address some of our world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Joshua also leads industry initiatives and fosters multi-stakeholder dialogue around helping to end plastic waste by creating a more circular economy.

He previously led public affairs at the American Beverage Association (ABA), where he oversaw the launch of a new plastics sustainability initiative and helped advance community-based recycling projects.

Prior to joining ABA, Joshua served as a managing director at Marathon Strategies and senior vice president at DDC Public Affairs. In both capacities, Joshua directed strategy and implementation of multi-channel issue advocacy and public affairs campaigns on behalf of Fortune 100 companies and leading trade associations. In 2018, Joshua led the defeat of the Border Adjustment Tax on behalf of the retail industry, which was recognized as PR Week’s 2018 global crisis campaign of the year.

He began his career working on Capitol Hill for former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson and as the National Coalitions Director for U.S. Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Joshua has a Master of Arts in Government and Political Communications from The Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Texas Tech University.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products, technologies and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health, safety and security performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy addressing major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. ACC members and chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development, and are advancing products, processes and technologies to address climate change, enhance air and water quality, and progress toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

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