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Chemical (Advanced) Recycling: A False, Climate Destroying, Environmentally Unjust Solution

Ann Gadwah

April 2022 Newsletter

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We’ve heard a lot about how low recycling rates are. Some estimates are at 9-10% of all recycled material actually gets recycled. Now before you go blaming your next door neighbor for not washing her glass out enough, or putting pizza boxes in the blue bin, let’s take a look at who the real culprit is: PLASTIC. 


The low recycling rate is due to the inability of the plastic industry to properly recycle their product. This, combined with the flourishing of single stream recycling, has grinded the process to a halt. Materials like glass, metals, and paper are very recyclable – but mixed in with plastics, which are not, the whole process gets messed up. Now we face a waste crisis here in Connecticut, and the blame is squarely on the misinformation of the plastic industry of their feasibility of recycling. 


So, what is their solution to this problem? Chemical or advanced recycling. This “solution” incinerates plastics at high heat down to a fuel that can either be burned or turned into new material. At this time, all of the existing facilities burn fuel and production of new material from the process is minimal. This is a linear process, not a circular process. This is not true recycling. 


To add insult to injury, this process emits just as much carbon dioxide as single stage incineration. The gaseous and solid outputs contain heavy metals like lead, mercury and other toxics. These toxics include dioxins, furans, and PCB’s. These toxics produce ongoing harms to the communities around them, literally poisoning them. Unfortunately, the existing facilities are disproportionately in areas that have a majority of people of color, low income, and limited English proficiency. Most of these facilities are classified as manufacturing facilities exempting them from the siting restrictions, pollution controls, reporting requirements, and public permitting processes that solid waste incinerators must ordinarily undergo due to a concerted lobbying effort by the industry. 


Two bills before the legislature would bring the industry to Connecticut. Fortunately neither of these bills have been approved by the relevant committees because once this industry is allowed to operate in the state, they will want to keep their business profitable and they will be here to stay. This industry will depend on a certain amount of plastic waste. Any plastic reduction legislation (straw reductions, polystyrene bans, etc) will be a threat to their business model and we can expect they will oppose plastic reduction legislation. We cannot allow this to happen. 


Take Action!

This “advanced recycling” is antithetical to the Zero Waste initiatives that will actually get us out of the waste management crisis we are in. It is a dirty, polluting way to deal with waste and must not be allowed to flourish in Connecticut. Please contact your legislator and tell them to reject chemical recycling. 

Ann Gadwah is Advocacy & Outreach Organizer with a focus on our legislative work at the State Capitol.

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