Originally posted on American Chemistry Council on 02/19/2021

Prediction time.

Based on the momentum building over the past three years, I predict that 2021 will mark a significant turning point for advanced plastics recycling.

Interest in advanced plastics recycling (or chemical recycling) is soaring for many reasons, in no small part due to growing awareness of plastic waste in our environment. While many communities are able to collect and process traditionally recyclable plastics (e.g., bottles, containers), more and more companies today are deploying advanced recycling technologies to recycle even more type of plastics and keep them out of our environment.

Announcements of new advanced recycling projects are impressive. Here are just a few examples from the last few months of 2020 from multinational corporations.

  • ExxonMobil – In December ExxonMobil announced a joint venture with recycling technology provider Agilyx Corporation that plans to process large volumes of used plastics into feedstocks to create chemical products, including those that can be re-formed into new plastics.
  • Shell Chemical – In November Shell announced it is scaling up its program to successfully make high-end chemicals using a liquid feedstock made from hard-to-recycle plastics. The company has announced plans to use one million metric tons of post-use plastics a year in its global chemical facilities by 2025 and this latest announcement gets them closer.
  • Chevron-Phillips (CPChem) – In October CPChem announced that it successfully completed the first U.S. commercial scale production of “circular” polyethylene made from recycled mixed-waste plastics. The company plans to expand the program which furthers its commitment to help the world find sustainable solutions, including the elimination of plastic waste in the environment.
  • Eastman Chemical Company—also in December, as part of its “Better Circle” initiative, Eastman committed to recycling more than 500 million pounds of plastic waste annually by 2030 via molecular recycling technologies, with a commitment to recycle 250 million pounds annually by 2025.

These announcements contribute to the growing momentum nationwide in advanced recycling. Since mid-2017, 66 projects valued at $5.5 billion—including $4.3 billion for advanced recycling—have been announced. These projects have the potential to divert more than 4.0 million metric tons (over 9 billion pounds) of waste from landfills each year.

On top of this momentum in investments, policymakers at the state and federal level also are climbing on board.

Nine states (Fla., Wis., Ga., Iowa, Ill., Tenn., Texas, Ohio, and Pa.) have passed legislation to help jumpstart advanced plastics recycling technologies by revising outdated policies that treated these advanced technologies as waste disposal. These states now more appropriately regulate these technologies as manufacturing facilities, which can open up economic opportunities such as new recycling businesses and job creation.

But with advanced recycling’s increased visibility, there has been some confusion, which is natural due to the new-ish nature of the technologies. We put together a short video that helps explain it. The two-minute video briefly explains the importance of advanced recycling in achieving a circular economy, in which plastics are reused rather than discarded, which helps keep them out of our environment and in productive use.

Please watch the video. And then please share it to help contribute to the circularity movement.