January 5, 2021

PennFuture Letter to the Editor in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A solution to our plastic waste crisis?

In his Dec. 29 op-ed “A More Sustainable Future for Pa. Through Recycling Innovation,” John Thayer applauded a recently passed bill that could drastically ramp up plastic production.

Mr. Thayer claims that chemical recycling will advance a circular economy, calling to mind an idealized recycling system in which materials are reused in an endless, closed loop that prevents the need for virgin plastic. Yet in reality, chemical recycling facilities will mostly convert our “recycled” plastics into fuel.

If these plastics-to-fuel companies succeed in exploiting Pennsylvania’s new law, we can expect a newly developed supply chain for discarded single-use plastics to drive more plastic production — which could eventually mean more fracking and more toxic petrochemical plants in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Mr. Thayer also claims that this new law could help build a “green economic revival” by attracting multiple chemical recycling facilities. In fact, such a scenario would very well make us the nation’s dumpster as these companies import plastics from hundreds of miles away, all while increasing air pollution under the relaxed regulatory scheme resulting from the new law.

Not only will chemical recycling fail to solve our plastic waste crisis; it will surely make it worse. This corporate greenwashing provides cover for companies eager to ramp up plastic production threefold by 2050, while deluding the rest of us into thinking recycling still means reuse.

The real solution to our plastic waste crisis is to produce less plastic — and the first step is demanding the full truth on chemical recycling.

Emily Persico
Policy Analyst