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Policies to Modernize Plastics Recycling End 2020 on a High Note

Sarah Lindsay

2020 ended on a couple high notes for plastics recycling. One at the state level and another at the federal level.

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law bipartisan legislation to help jumpstart advanced plastics recycling technologies in the state. Like many other states, Pennsylvania’s former laws and regulations had treated these advanced technologies—in which used plastics are broken down into their molecular components to be reused to make new products—as waste disposal. Outdated regulations like those formerly in Pennsylvania have hindered recycling and stymied efforts to deploy new technologies that can dramatically expand the types and amounts of plastics recycled.

Pennsylvania’s new law defines advanced recycling technologies as manufacturing because these technologies take raw materials—used plastics—and turn them into multiple useful products, including new plastics, industrial chemicals, additives for building and construction applications, transportation fuels, and others.

With this new law, Pennsylvania has opened its doors to economic opportunities such as new recycling businesses and job creation. Since mid-2017, 64 projects valued at $5.3 billion—including $4.3 billion for advanced recycling—have been announced throughout the United States. These projects have the potential to divert more than 4.0 million metric tons (nearly 9 billion pounds) of waste from landfills each year.

Wolf is the ninth governor to sign such legislation since 2017, joining Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas, Illinois, and Ohio. We look forward to working with other state policymakers in the months ahead. 

On another positive note, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in early October released its draft National Recycling Strategy designed to help improve recycling nationwide. The strategy will help EPA realize its recently announced National Recycling Goal aimed at increasing the national recycling rate for all materials to 50% by 2030.

The Strategy and Goal represent a newly enhanced commitment by the federal government to play a leadership role in increasing recycling broadly, which America’s plastic makers have welcomed. EPA’s work aligns with plastic makers’ goal of recycling or recovering 100% of plastic packaging in the U.S. by 2040 and our Roadmap to Reuse and Guiding Principles that will help us reach our goal.

It’s important for EPA’s National Recycling Strategy to recognize the critical role advanced recycling will play in supporting the Agency’s Goal and in creating new markets for used plastics. In addition, U.S. communities need to enhance collection of plastics and other materials. EPA also should develop a more harmonized federal approach on recycling education and standards that can help communities collect and recycle more plastics. And we encourage the Agency to work closely with Congress to develop policies that will support private sector funding for recycling infrastructure, including systems to enable communities to increase collection of plastics and other recyclable materials.

We offer our support and look forward to working with EPA and the incoming Administration as they build on the draft strategy and develop pragmatic bipartisan solutions.

Despite the serious headwinds our nation encountered in 2020, I’m encouraged by these recent developments and feel a true sense of momentum in plastics recycling.

Looking forward to 2021.

About the author
American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health and safety performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy designed to address major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. The business of chemistry is a $486 billion enterprise and a key element of the nation's economy. It is among the largest exporters in the nation, accounting for ten percent of all U.S. goods exports. Chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development. Safety and security have always been primary concerns of ACC members, and they have intensified their efforts, working closely with government agencies to improve security and to defend against any threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

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