Study:Is chemical recycling just making fuel?

A new report from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) has examined the efficacy of chemical recycling facilities, finding shallow results.

Chemical recycling is a recycling process where plastic waste is processed into fuels or back into the chemical building blocks that originally form the plastics. It’s considered key to the circular economy where there is no such thing as waste, just feedstock for new plastics.

GAIA looked at the 37 chemical recycling facilities proposed since the 2000s and found that only three were actually operating, and that none of them were actually recovering plastic in any way that could be considered “circular.”

Instead, it appears they are pushing “plastic to fuel” (PTF) using pyrolysis or gasification, and just burning it. US experts say that PTF is often considered a good thing because plastic is, a solid fossil fuel, so we can get double use out of it. But that’s not the case, the researchers argue, primarily because “PTF carries a large carbon footprint that is not compatible with a climate-safe future. It only adds to global carbon emissions created by the fossil fuel industry.”

Toxic PTF

This is due to the fuel and resources used to pick it up, process it, cook it, and then burn it. Making PTF is also toxic, they claim.

According to the study, plastic often contains toxic additives and contaminants that are known to be harmful to human health and are not effectively filtered out from the “chemical recycling” process or may form during the process, risking exposure to workers, communities near facilities, consumers, and the environment. For example, hormone disruptors and carcinogens such as bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, benzene, brominated compounds, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are found in plastic and not effectively filtered out from end-products including fuel. Depending on the type of plastic being processed, other chemicals may form and end up in the final product, such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, PBDEs, PAHs, and high-temperature tars, among many others.

Making waste disappear

What it is really doing is making waste plastic disappear, so that new plastic cheaper and easier to use can be made in the new petrochemical plants.

The petrochemical industry has pushed back on plastic bans and other policies to curb plastic use, 46 have used the COVID-19 pandemic to claim that single-use plastic was safer and more hygienic than plastic alternatives.

Meanwhile, many petrochemical companies point to PTD and “chemical recycling” as key solutions to the plastic waste crisis and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Dow, Shell, and others give financial backing to projects like Hefty Energy Bag.

According to Gaia, “As policymakers push industry to move away from fossil fuels and plastic, the future of the plastic-to-fuel industry is at best questionable and at most a distraction from addressing the root cause of the world’s plastic waste crisis.

“The “chemical recycling” industry has struggled with decades of technological difficulties and poses an unnecessary risk to the environment and health and a financially risky future that is incompatible with a climate-safe future and circular economy.

“Chemical recycling, at least as is happening now, is just an elaborate and expensive version of waste-to-energy. There is no point, other than it makes waste disappear. Given the amount of CO2 it generates, from a climate point of view, we would be better off just burying it, and we are not going back there. The only real way to deal with this is to stop making so much of the stuff in the first place, to reuse, refill, and to go truly circular,” GAIA concludes.

Macca’s makes local history with recycled restaurant

The 1,000th McDonald’s fast food restaurant will open in Melton South in Victoria at the end of the year using recycled material throughout the building including infrastructure and furnishings.

McDonald’s Australia senior director of development Josh Bannister, said it was the company’s first local sustainability flagship.

“The Melton South restaurant will play a vital role in allowing us to continue to test, evaluate and implement industry-leading sustainable innovations,” he said.

There will also be 100 per cent renewable energy used in the restaurant thanks to solar energy panel installed on the roof. The restaurant will include a waste sorting bin for greater recycling and diversion from landfill.

Cutlery offered to customers will all be fibre based including stirrers and straws following its commitment earlier this year to help reduce plastic use and waste.

The franchisee of the 1,000th restaurant, Ben Westover, has been an operator of McDonald’s restaurants for more than a decade and said he was excited to open the new store.


Equipment News: High-end rear loader fit for any purpose

Bucher Municipal’s rear loader, the UrBin RL60, has been positioned to offer the best package for its customers. More versatile than ever before, the RL60 is lighter, narrower and lower in height than any other rear loader in the market.

Narrow access roads, jam-packed driveways and multi-unit dwellings (MUD’s) require agile refuse collectors with precise manoeuvrability capabilities. The cutting edge UrBin RL60 is ideal not only due to its low height and narrow body design, but also for its raised hopper bowl allowing access in and out of steep driveways without compromising capacity or manoeuvrability.

Versatile and efficient

The RL60 brings versatility to day-to-day disposal tasks, delivering even more transport capacity. Driven by a more environmentally friendly vehicle, the UrBin RL60 places less strain onto local infrastructure, playing its part in reducing emissions and on-going road maintenance. With an optimised body length, the RL60 reduces expensive chassis modifications, guaranteeing a high level of vehicle utilisation for the operator while also providing municipalities with an improved return on their procurement costs.

The rear loader can be used across multiple applications without any limitations. Its unmatched productivity sees the RL60 offer less down time for maintenance and higher payloads; on-board safety features such as integrated reversing camera, reversing lights, alarm and improved Bucher hydraulic system.

Improved ergonomics

Additionally, the fully integrated Bucher control system continuously monitors the vehicle for emergencies and faults, its improved in-cab layout provides better ergonomics for the driver and its larger all-in- one screen, provides better visibility.

Bucher Municipal vehicles for commercial or domestic waste collection deliver the best solution for business, and the environment.

Bucher Municipal’s product range is built on the company’s reputation for innovation, while playing a major role in maintaining the its position as a leading manufacturer and supplier for collection, compaction and sweeping equipment both throughout Australia and internationally.

Victoria’s Buy Recycled tool prompts buyers to consider options

Sustainability Victoria has launched its new online directory, Buy Recycled, which features local Victorian products containing recycled content.

The tool is designed to provide government buyers with easy access to suppliers and recycled material options when considering products for purchasing and infrastructure projects.

Products listed in the directory include:

  • fencing
  • furniture
  • pavement
  • piping and irrigation
  • playgrounds
  • road base

According to Sustainability Victoria, it’s increasingly important for government to consider the environmental impact of purchasing and infrastructure activities. Buy Recycled aims to provide buyers with options to achieve positive environmental outcomes and support organisational sustainability goals.

The Victorian Government’s Social Procurement Framework requires government buyers to consider opportunities to deliver social and sustainable outcomes in every procurement activity. Where appropriate, this includes sustainable material choices and buying products made from recycled content.

This directory is designed to state and local governments to consider environmental sustainability principles when making decisions about purchasing goods for public construction and infrastructure.