By Alex Cole, Community Organizer with OVEC
The petrochemical industry has a new marketing stunt in the works. A process, dubbed chemical plastic recycling, is a new technological innovation in waste management, but it isn’t exactly what most people thought was happening when they put that plastic out on the corner or in that little blue bin.
According to statistics, since 1950, only about nine percent of plastic that has been produced has been recycled even once. Currently, more than half of the world’s plastic gets discarded in landfills, oceans, or somewhere else in the environment, and approximately a quarter of the plastic produced in the world today is incinerated — or burned — a highly toxic process that spews chemicals into the air, usually in poor and disenfranchised communities.
Today, only about 20 percent of the plastic consumed in our modern society gets recycled. Regardless, there are significant problems with plastic recycling. Unlike glass and aluminum that can be recycled indefinitely, when plastic is recycled, the quality and durability of the recycled material decreases. Even worse, because of the fracking boom over the last dozen years, the virgin feedstock made from ethane and other oil and natural gas derivatives is so inexpensive that it often does not make economic sense to recycle plastic at all. It is, and it always has been, cheaper to make new pure plastic and avoid the energy, time and resources involved in taking old plastic and attempting to make it new again.
In essence: plastic recycling is a myth.
But what does this have to do with the Ohio River Valley? Well with all the news going on you might have missed an article in the Herald-Dispatch titled “Plastic Recycling Company Seeks Funding for Lawrence County Plant.”
PureCycle Technologies is the name of the company emblazoned on the side of the plant, and if you believe their website, you would think that they are the plucky little start up trying to find the solution to our ever-growing plastic problem. They proclaim to have discovered a groundbreaking new process to break down recycled plastic chemically, remove impurities and make new “virgin like” plastic pellets. However, they fail to mention where the impurities go and what may be released into the air, ground, and water during this process.
So why would they locate this new venture here? Toxic land is cheap, and we need jobs, so it seems we have fallen prey to the anything-is-better-than-nothing-at-all mentality. Because of it, we risk being saddled with the unforeseen costs of another generation of the latest and greatest petrochemical revolution — toxic land, water, and air — while everyone involved goes bankrupt and flees, having made their buck but leaving no money for the cleanup in our local communities.
Stunts like this make consumers feel like they are doing good, being green, being sustainable, and duping us into believe plastic is being recycled instead of being burned and disposed of.
We cannot fall for the lies anymore. We here have been through this cycle before, and it’s time to do better by truly eliminating the source of the problem: plastic production.