Louisiana Legislature passed chemical recycling bill, but critics say it may worsen environment

‘Communities don’t want these,’ environmentalist says

By: - June 14, 2021 5:47 pm

In this file photo from 2016, a man drops off recyclable materials at Recology’s Recylce Central in San Francisco. A bill passed by the Louisiana Legislature this session would usher in a new kind of plastic recycling in the state, but environmental advocates warn that the process is unproven at best and could bring more pollution. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A bill passed by the Louisiana Legislature this session would usher in a new kind of plastic recycling in the state, but environmental advocates warn that the process is unproven at best and could bring more pollution to communities already breathing in toxic emissions.

Senate Bill 97 by Sen. Eddie Lambert (R-Gonzales) paves the way for chemical recycling, a variety of processes that use heat, pressure and or solvents to break down plastics to be remade into plastics or fuel. “I think this is an attempt to try to deal with a problem we have — plastics,” Lambert said in a committee hearing in April.

Petrochemical companies say the technology addresses the shortfalls of mechanical recycling, which is limited to certain types of plastic. A dozen other states have passed similar legislation, said Wesley Robinson, with the American Chemistry Council. “You can make a wider range of products with this,” he said. “This is a great way to help reduce plastics from entering the landfills.”

Shell, ExxonMobil, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Dow and Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association supported the legislation, which has not yet been signed into law or vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

But a report published by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives last year concluded that chemical recycling technology has not advanced enough to support the claim that it is a real solution to the plastic waste problem. Currently the process uses more energy than it is capable of producing and results in toxic byproducts and air pollution. 

“They involve the management of toxic materials. They involve the emissions of toxic chemicals and combustible fuels,” said Jane Patton, the director of No Waste Louisiana. “Communities don’t want these.”

The bill exempts chemical recycling facilities from regulations placed on solid waste disposal facilities, which are required to prove they have the funds to properly close facilities and clean up any waste leaked into soil or groundwater. This is especially problematic for an industry that has not proved to be economical, Patton said.

Air quality regulations and other environmental regulations will still apply to these facilities, said Elliott Vega, the assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

Last month, a chemical recycling facility in Indiana caught fire. “I am very concerned about the fact that we are essentially opening the door for these companies to have a completely regulation-free space on which to experiment on Louisiana communities,” Patton said.

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Sara Sneath
Sara Sneath

Sara Sneath is a freelance environmental journalist who lives in New Orleans with her dog and three bikes.

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