Wednesday, May 3, 2023

EP 56 Advanced Chemical Recycling - The Wave of the Future or More of the Same?

EP 56 Advanced Chemical Recycling - The Wave of the Future or More of the Same?

Tom Irwin, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, joins me on this podcast along with Roger Stephenson of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Biologist Dr. Cynthia Walter of the NH Network, to discuss one of the newer technologies in solid waste management called Advanced Recycling. Tom succinctly outlines the scope of the problem with respect to dealing with plastic waste

But plastic waste is only one of the issues that we need to address moving forward. Reduction and substitution is also a critical component of building a future where plastics do not pose the threat that faces us today. Finally, there is the overarching issue of climate change and the question of whether Advanced recycling will improve carbon emissions associated with the disposal of plastics or make the problem worse.

"Advanced Recycling" is the abbreviated version of the more revealing terms used by scientists who call it  " chemical recycling" or "plastics recycling" . It generally describes a series of processes employed to convert used plastics to their chemical components and thence to products and fuels.

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The philosopher George Santayana said that "Skepticism is the Chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the firstcomer." and skepticism seems to be the watchword when it comes to these processes.

The companies that are investing in this technology are largely the same fossil fuel companies, companies like Exxon Mobil, that have spent three decades denying the effects of climate change.

If the thought of recycling plastics brings to mind the April 2023 fire at a plastics recycler in Richmond, Indiana, that made national news, you are not alone. That fire forced the evacuation of 2,000 nearby residents. The towering plumes of black smoke were dramatic, but, according to experts, this is far from an isolated incident in the world of facilities that store or recycle plastic waste.

Though they rarely receive the amount of attention that the Richmond facility did, according to  Richard Meier, a private fire investigator in Florida who worked for 24 years as a mechanical engineer in manufacturing, including in plastics companies, there are - in fact - hundreds of such fires in the United States and Canada every year. and most of them never make the news.

So, given the extent of the problem as described by Tom,  we are left to answer the questions: is "Advanced Recycling"  really advanced and really recycling; or is it neither. 

Is it a safe and responsible approach to dealing with a growing national and international problem with plastic waste?

However you come down on the issue, my guests today are clear that all of us should exercise skepticism, not only because of the historic record of the fossil fuels industry on climate but also as it relates to safety and health issues and what they term as "Cumulative impacts" - the subject of a bill currently before the NH legislature.

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I have to say that after speaking with Roger, Tom, and Cynthia, I am more skeptical than ever of Advanced Recycling. That skepticism began with a general mistrust of the fossil fuel industry and their motives and methods.

But more important - and I may sound like the country boy I am here - it just seems a matter of horse sense.

If we need to reduce plastics in our environment - and we clearly do - why begin halfway through the cycle? Why give the industry a reason to keep manufacturing plastics from raw materials simply because they are working to convince us that - now, magically, they are the source of the answer to the problem they have created to begin with?

There is no doubt that we have an existing problem that we must confront and perhaps - perhaps - Advanced Recycling can play a role in doing that, but not if it requires us to continue to feed the marketplace with new plastics, rather than a safer, more sustainable set of alternatives.

The fossil fuel industry is in its final stages - they are staring down the barrel of a new day where green technologies have eclipsed their relevance and their profits. Every industry that has ever existed has been through the same thing. We can feel for those who are seeing their way of life disappearing but it is part of the social evolution of the capitalist ecosystem. We are under no obligation to help them create a new source of wealth, especially if that source delays the green transition that we need to keep our planet habitable for all of us: two-legged, four-legged, winged and otherwise mobile.


What is a refillery & why is refilling important?

Aug 28, 2021— a refillery store – which is a retail store with a physical location that is dedicated to refills. This also includes zero waste grocery stores.

Refilleries in New Hampshire

Rayne Refillery
5.0(5)· Store
Alton, NH
Closed⋅ Opens 10 AM Wed· (603) 393-0327
In-store shopping·In-store pickup·Delivery

Replenish Refillery
5.0(9)· Home goods store
Dover, NH
Closed⋅ Opens 10 AM Tue· (603) 507-0852
In-store shopping·Curbside pickup·Delivery

The Refill Station
4.9(11)· Store
Portsmouth, NH
Closed⋅ Opens 10 AM Tue· (603) 498-8963
In-store shopping

Bona Fide | Eco + Refill Shop
4.7(40)· Boutique
Concord, NH
Closed⋅ Opens 10 AM Tue· (603) 224-9700
In-store shopping·Curbside pickup·Delivery

Leave No Trace Refillery, llc
5.0(1)· Delivery service
Closed⋅ Opens 8 AM Tue· (833) 733-4558

Witching Hour Provisions | New Hampshire (NH) bulk store & small-batch coffee roaster.
5.0(8)· Home goods store
Hopkinton, NH
Closed⋅ Opens 10 AM Tue· (603) 505-8107
In-store shopping·In-store pickup·Delivery

Climate resilience in New England: How does New Hampshire stack up?

New Hampshire Network: Environment • Energy • Climate

Roger Stephenson
Northeast Regional Advocacy Director
Union of Concerned Scientists
(603) 770-9484
Twitter: @RogerAPR

Tom Irwin, Esq.
Vice President and Director of CLF New Hampshire
27 North Main Street
Concord, NH 03301-4930

P: 603.225.3060

Conservation Law Foundation.

Cynthia Walter, Ph.D.
Retired Biologist
NH Network for Environment, Energy and Climate Plastics Working Group

NH Network for Environment, Energy and Climate
NH Network for Environment, Energy and Climate Plastics Working Group

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