Bill to Ban Advanced Plastic Recycling Makes Another Appearance


PROVIDENCE — The third time’s the charm; lawmakers are again weighing a state ban on high-heat waste facilities that environmental advocates say would just be burning plastic.

The prohibition being considered by lawmakers would be for advanced recycling, chemical recycling, and any other facilities that “uses a thermochemical process to convert post-use polymers, plastic or recovered feedstock into fuels, chemical feedstocks, monomers, oligomers, hydrocarbons, waxes, lubricants, feedstocks fuels or hydrocarbons.”

It’s the third year House legislators are considering such a ban. While no such facilities currently exist in Rhode Island, the bill (H7357), introduced by Rep. Michelle McGaw, D-Portsmouth, would seek to outlaw so-called advanced recycling practices before they start.

“This bill is a response to a move both nationally and here in Rhode Island to create a narrative that high-heat processing of our waste is somehow the answer to our waste disposal problems, including the growing plastic waste dilemma.” McGaw told the House Environment Committee on Thursday.

McGaw first introduced the bill outlawing advanced recycling in 2022, in direct response to enabling legislation introduced in the Senate by the late Sen. Frank Lombardo, D-Johnston, that would have exempted high-heat waste processing facilities from solid waste regulations. The legislation, which drew widespread criticism from environmental groups and advocates who called the advanced recycling process greenwashing, narrowly passed the Senate in a rare close vote, but ultimately stalled in the House.

Two years later — despite the Senate not proposing the bill again after it failed — Lombardo’s proposal still remains unpopular within the House; McGaw said this year’s version of her bill garnered 46 co-sponsors, over half the amount of representatives in the chamber.

“The plastic industry has been trying to convince people across the country that by recategorizing pyrolysis as manufacturing as a way to sidestep important environmental and health precautions, they can solve the plastic crisis they created,” McGaw said.

Plastic remains one of the world’s chief waste problems. While it’s inexpensive, highly malleable, and used in a wide variety of applications from TVs and cars to food packaging, those same benefits are also a double-edged sword. Once created — from fossil fuels like oil and gas, notably — it’s incredibly difficult to break down, and difficult to actually reuse and recycle.

Last month the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI) published a report that revealed that many of the world’s plastic producers had known for more than three decades that recycling plastic wasn’t a solution to the growing waste problem resulting from plastic. CCI’s research also showed that various plastic producers within the industry had continued to promote plastic recycling despite knowing it was ultimately a quixotic enterprise.

For small states like Rhode Island, managing waste is key; the less residents throw out, the better. The Central Landfill in Johnston after all only has another projected 15 years of lifetime capacity before the state runs out of space to dump it’s trash.

Plastic industry groups remain opposed to the legislation. While no one from the American Chemistry Council testified at last week’s committee hearing against the bill, it objected to the bill in written testimony, claiming that advanced recycling facilities would contribute to the circular economy, and that their processes were technically not incineration.

“Advanced recycling helps decrease plastic waste by taking products that currently do not have strong end markets to be converted back into their basic chemical building blocks,” wrote Margaret Gorman, a senior director at the American Chemistry Council. “It supports continued progress toward zero waste and sustainability goals for communities and states. And it enables us to turn more plastics into a wide variety of new products instead of landfilling them.”

Twenty-four states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, have passed legislation that enabled advanced recycling facilities.

Environmental groups like Just Zero and Clean Water Action came out in support of the pyrolysis ban, arguing it only obscured the actual growing problem of plastic and polluted the air around advanced recycling facilities.

“The technology that would be prohibited by this legislation, things like pyrolysis, gasification, depolymerization and others are basically just incineration,” said Jed Thorp, state director of Clean Water Action. “The General Assembly has a long history of rejecting incineration as the solution for our waste management problem.”

The bill was held for further study.


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  1. That the plastic industry cvalls it advanced recycling is indicative howe much they are lying scum. We sholud ban it forever and pretty much get rid of all single us plastics in the economy. The plastic industry is just providing cover for the fossil fuel burners. They are killing the planet and our communities.

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