Beyond mechanical recycling, innovative technologies today also can convert/repurpose plastics into multiple additional products, such as industrial chemicals/products, transportation fuels, and even raw materials to create new plastics.
Advancing technologies can break down plastics into their molecular building blocks to be repurposed into various valuable materials. These technologies can significantly expand the markets for used plastics both in the U.S. and globally, which will help keep plastics out of the environment and in productive use.
Examples – Multiple business ventures can “chemically” recycle plastics to create new products. A few publicized examples (this is not an exhaustive list) include:
- An Agilyx facility in Tigard, OR, chemically recycles used polystyrene packaging into its raw material: styrene. Americas Styrenics will use that recycled styrene to make polystyrene for use in multiple new products, including foodservice ware, creating a circular loop.
- Eastman can break down used polyester into its building blocks to make new polyester for food packaging and other products.
- UK-based Plastic Energy produces a feedstock (known as TACOIL) derived from mixed plastics that typically are not recycled. SABIC processes this feedstock into new plastics for Unilever, Tupperware, and other customers who create consumer packaging for food, beverage, personal, and home-care products. This packaging, in turn, could be recovered and repurposed again and again.
- Both United and Delta airlines have announced ventures to produce fuels from used plastics.
Read a more detailed overview of advanced plastics recycling.
Investments in Advanced Recycling
A wave of new investments has been announced over the past few years in the United States, expanding both plastics recycling capacity and the use of new technologies, including in both traditional and advanced recycling. Driven by rapidly growing societal interest in building more circular systems, U.S. businesses increasingly are taking the lead in reducing waste and better managing our resources here at home.
$5+ billion in New Investments – China announced its National Sword policy restricting imports of recyclables in 2017, and other Southeast Asian countries following suit shortly thereafter. Long-established recycling markets were disrupted, and communities had to search for newer, less-established markets for the plastics (and other materials) they collected. Since that time, nearly $5 billion in new investments, mostly in advanced recycling technologies, have been announced.