Huffman, Booker, Lowenthal Lead 35 Colleagues in Letter Raising Concerns Over Climate & Environmental Justice Risks of Chemical Recycling of Plastics

Today, U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) led a bicameral group of 35 members of Congress in a letter raising concerns over chemical recycling technologies that contribute to the climate crisis and perpetuate environmental injustice in vulnerable communities. The letter comes as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers whether to remove existing Clean Air Act protections from chemical recycling processes.

“Chemical recycling technologies, specifically pyrolysis and gasification, are forms of incineration and do not help us achieve new source reduction,” wrote the members of Congress in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “These two processes are primarily used to “produce fuels like crude oils or synthetic natural gas,” and often do not result in the production of new plastic, meaning these technologies may not support the transition to a “circular economy.”

The members of Congress continued by highlighting that “estimates suggest that the pyrolysis of plastics emits nearly twice as much CO2 as mechanical recycling — and unlike mechanical recycling, is not guaranteed to recover plastics into the supply chain or reduce the need for new virgin plastic.” Mechanical recycling processes include washing, grinding, and re-granulating to recover plastic resins.

In addition to detailing the harms associated with chemical recycling processes, the members of Congress also raised concerns over the hazardous waste released by chemical recycling facilities, which have been found to “emit highly toxic chemicals, including benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylenes, and dioxins, many of which are linked to cancer, nervous system damage, and negative effects on reproduction and development.” As the EPA currently reviews whether pyrolysis and gasification should continue to be regulated as “municipal waste combustion units” under Section 129 of the Clean Air Act, the members of Congress wrote that “changes in how these facilities are regulated could have significant impacts on local air emissions in the communities where these facilities are located, disproportionately impacting minority and low-income communities.”

“We ask that EPA continue to regulate pyrolysis and gasification units as waste combustion units so that the most vulnerable communities do not bear even more of a burden from existing facilities,” concluded the members of Congress. “We also urge the EPA to prioritize solutions that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic and move us towards a circular economy through source reduction interventions and improved mechanical recycling as it implements the National Recycling Strategy….Technologies that worsen the climate crisis, perpetuate a reliance on single-use plastics, and adversely impact vulnerable communities cannot be viewed as viable solutions moving forward.”

The letter was cosigned by Senators Booker, Murray, Merkley, Markey, Feinstein, Sanders, Warren, Van Hollen and Representatives Jared Huffman, Lowenthal, Norton, Takano, Matsui, Scanlon, Alma Adams, Castor, McEachin, Lofgren, Bush, Tlaib, Jackson-Lee, Barragán, “Chuy” García, Levin, DeSaulnier, Stansbury, Jacobs, Espaillat, Pocan, Welch, Ocasio-Cortez, Blumenauer, Maloney, Raskin, and McNerney. The letter was also endorsed by over 45 environmental and environmental justice organizations.

Full text of the letter can be found here.

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