As the plastic waste crisis worsens, an increasing number of proposals for pyrolysis facilities have emerged in the United States. However, there is limited information available regarding the feasibility, scalability, cost-efficiency, toxicity, and impacts on local communities.
Industrialization of coast lines
Failed Advanced Recycling Facilities
As the plastic waste crisis worsens, an increasing number of proposals for pyrolysis facilities have emerged in the United States. However, there is limited information available regarding the feasibility, scalability, cost-efficiency, toxicity, and impacts on local communities. While some operations claim to be capable of creating new plastic from old plastic, there is little evidence to support this assertion. Several high-profile case studies shed light on the challenges faced by the plastic-to-fuel (PTF) industry, including its ties with the petrochemical sector, as well as technological and economic hurdles.
Dow Chemical’s Hefty EnergyBag Campaign to burn plastic waste in Salt Lake City, Utah
Renewlogy, in partnership with Dow Chemical, established a plastic-to-fuel company in Salt Lake City in 2018. They collaborated with cities like Greater Boise, Idaho (2018) and Lincoln, Nebraska (2019) to implement the Hefty EnergyBag curbside collection program. This program involved collecting “hard-to-recycle” plastic waste in orange bags to be burned or converted into fuels. In response, GAIA organized a petition campaign in October 2017 to expose Dow Chemical’s greenwashing efforts.
In April 2018, Boise, Idaho joined the Hefty EnergyBag program. However, the Renewlogy plant in Salt Lake City stopped accepting the collected waste in the first quarter of 2019 due to equipment upgrades, which were expected to be completed in early 2020. Meanwhile, the city continued to collect the orange bags, resulting in stockpiling of plastic waste.
Turning plastic waste into fuel through a public-private partnership in Phoenix, Arizona
The city of Phoenix Public Works Department announced a partnership to build a facility on the city’s Resource Innovation Campus with the aim of converting #3-7 plastic waste into fossil fuels. Renewlogy is involved in this partnership through Renew Phoenix, a joint venture with Generated Materials Recovery. The city of Phoenix promotes this partnership under its zero waste city plan, “Reimagine Phoenix.” However, relying on plastic-to-fuel technologies may lead to costly infrastructure that replaces plastic waste with greenhouse gases, toxic emissions, and other solid and liquid residues.
Plastic-to-fuel plant in Ashley, Indiana, partnering with fossil fuel giant BP
Brightmark, the owner of RES Polyflow, an Ohio-based manufacturer of plastic-to-fuel energy recovery systems, has partnered with oil and gas company BP to provide diesel fuel, naphtha, and waxes. While the company’s existing facility has not yet reached its advertised capacity, they are seeking community partners across the country to build more plants in order to increase capacity. Concurrently, BP is also collaborating with California-based gasification company Fulcrum Energy to convert mixed waste into jet fuels.
Agilyx, the nation’s plastic-to-fuel leader, struggling with multiple challenges
Oregon-based Agilyx has been one of the few plastic-to-fuel operations since 2008. In 2016, Agilyx closed its pyrolysis facility in Tigard, Oregon, unable to compete with the low price of oil. In 2014, a facility in Portland that utilized Agilyx’s technology was also shut down due to technological challenges, resulting in economic losses for Waste Management, Inc., the facility’s owner, and local communities. Agilyx has also announced a partnership with Monroe Energy, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, Inc., to convert waste plastics into jet fuel in Trainer, Pennsylvania. Furthermore, Agilyx claims to have retrofitted its Tigard facility to recycle polystyrene (PS) into styrene for the production of new PS resin. However, a recent investigation reveals that in 2018, most of the outputs from the facility were ultimately burned in cement kilns.
These high-profile cases cast doubt on the claims made by advanced recycling facilities and raise questions about their environmental impact, economic viability, and true motivations. It is crucial to scrutinize the operations of these facilities and hold them accountable to ensure genuine progress in tackling the plastic waste crisis.