Advanced Plastic Recycling Has Toxic Potential

by Vivian Diep in March 24th, 2023

Tue Mar 21

If China isn’t taking our plastics anymore, how do we recycle it at home? Advanced recycling sounds like a big step in the right direction as it takes our plastic trash and turns it into new plastic or fuel. Here’s the catch though: It’s a toxic process.

Advanced recycling essentially uses heat and chemicals to “cook” plastics into new plastic products, even fuel. The more obvious downside is that it doesn’t actually decrease our appetite for plastic. As it is, global plastic recycling rates sit at a measly 9% with the US coming in at 5%. That doesn’t inspire confidence in plastic recycling as a solution, but what’s keeping environmentalists up at night right now is the decreasing regulation of advanced recycling facilities.

States are relaxing regulations instead of tightening them, allowing hazardous fumes to be emitted, including benzene, lead, cadmium, and chromium. By classifying advanced recycling facilities as manufacturing rather than solid waste facilities, states are allowing these companies to avoid Clean Air Act emissions limits. Utah was the 22nd state to classify advanced recycling as manufacturing rather than solid waste and Illinois is considering the same.

Unsurprisingly, these advanced recycling plants disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income (who don’t have the wealth and access to resources including legal services to put up real resistance). The hazardous waste produced are known carcinogens and can cause birth defects among other issues. The EPA has been called on by Democratic lawmakers last month to increase regulation of the plastic industry as a whole, but any bills will face hurdles in the House of Representatives as it is Republican controlled.


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🎬 Action of the Week

Keep tabs on your local area's policies for advanced plastic recycling/chemical recycling and learn more about it with GAIA.


  • Waste Today Magazine: Illinois May Reclassify Advanced Recycling Facility 3 minutes long | 1 week ago
  • Waste Today Magazine: Utah To Regulate Advanced Recycling As Manufacturers 2 minutes long | 3 days ago
  • CEN: Chemical Recycling Isn't Recycling? 11 minutes long | 10 months ago
  • Politico: Policy Fight Against Chemical Recycling 6 minutes long | 3 months ago
  • OECD: Plastic Recycling Rates 4 minutes long | 1 year ago
  • AP: Advanced Recycling Debate 7 minutes long | 5 months ago
  • Waste Dive: Lawmakers Call on EPA for Tighter Regulation of Plastics Industry 2 minutes long | 1 month ago


             Art by Hayley Jane Wakenshaw
(   _    _ _\
=`-(_)--(_)-'  hjw

Elm Street says we should take the compact car today.

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