Recycling Lies: “Chemical Recycling” of Plastic Is Just Greenwashing Incineration

Issue Brief
March 07, 2022

Co-authored with Tessa Wardle

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

An estimated 242 million metric tons plastic waste it is generated globally every year, polluting our cities and clogging the oceans, and the United States is one of the top generators. However, America recycles only about 8.7 percent of its plastic waste. The other 90 percent or so is incinerated or landfilled or ends up in the environment. As public concern grows about mountains of plastic trash, the plastics industry is promoting technologies that it misleadingly calls “chemical recycling” (also known as advanced recycling, molecular recycling, and chemical conversion) and touts as a solution to the plastic crisis. But it is a false solution. In fact, based on our analysis of eight “chemical recycling” plants in the United States, we found that (1) most “chemical recycling” facilities in the United States are not recycling any plastic, (2) “chemical recycling” facilities generate hazardous air pollutants and large quantities of hazardous waste, and (3) “chemical recycling” facilities tend to be located in communities that are disproportionately low income, people of color, or both.

”Chemical recycling” will not solve our plastic waste problem. Instead, we need policies that reduce plastic production and waste, promote greater transparency about “chemical recycling,” ensure the protection of environmental justice communities that are disproportionately impacted by these facilities, and do not greenwash the plastic-to-fuel processes as recycling.