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Sierra Club fights ‘plastic burning,’ hopes to ban chemical recycling

UN Development Programme
/
Flickr

When the Michigan legislature passed a historic overhaul of the state’s waste management law, known as Part 115, recycling proponents celebrated. But not everyone was happy with some aspects of the new policy - they say it opens the door to “industrial plastic burning.”

Now, environmental advocates are trying to help draft legislation to strip the language in favor of chemical recycling.

Last month, two companies proposed a new facility in Newaygo that would turn discarded plastics into fuel- in a process known as pyrolysis.

It’s a type of controversial chemical recycling - that is now exempt from regulation under the state’s new Part 115.

“I refuse to call this recycling because it's not recycling,” said Christy McGillivray, the political director of the Michigan Sierra Club.

In addition to pursuing legislation, she said the group hopes to ban the sector from the state. She said chemical recycling only justifies the production of more plastics and will increase greenhouse gas emissions.

“I put it this way: Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan aspirations for greenhouse gas emissions reductions will not be met if these facilities open in Michigan. They won't,” McGillivray said.

The new law states that chemical recycling is not considered solid waste management.

"For the purposes of part 115, chemical recycling does not include incineration of plastics, waste-to-energy processes, or activities performed at a facility excluded from the definition of materials management facility," the law states in HB-4554 (2021).

The state said these provisions don't change how chemical recycling is regulated in Michigan, and facilities will be regulated through other aspects of environmental law.

But McGillivray said exempting the industry from state waste law has removed any “meaningful tools” of oversight. She adds that American Chemical Council pushed for the amendments to the initial bill package, and if there really were no impacts, the provisions didn't need to be included.

Teresa Homsi
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