There are two big issues getting a lot of public policy attention right now: the push by President Joe Biden's administration to vastly increase the amount of bio-based plastics used in the U.S. and chemical recycling rules.
The biopolymer story — with a "moon shot" sized target of transitioning 90 percent of plastics in the U.S. to bio-based materials — has obviously been the hot topic. That's understandable since it came out of the White House and was mostly unexpected.
Chemical recycling, on the other hand, has been mostly a debate in individual states, although national leaders have been talking about it too, including a hearing March 30.
What strikes me, though, is that while both have a very large footprint when it comes to public policy debates, both chemical recycling and bio-based plastics are relatively small pieces of the plastics puzzle in terms of actual business. McKinsey & Co. estimates that even with an investment of $40 billion by 2030, chemical recycling — or advanced recycling, the term many in the industry prefer — would account for only about 4-8 percent of all material used.
As both Steve Toloken and Jim Johnson from Plastics News have written this week, there's still a lot of uncertainties about just how much will be invested in chemical recycling. In Illinois, Ineos Styrolution America LLC is moving ahead with engineering plans for a possible chemical recycling plant in Illinois, although a proposal to extend a chemical recycling zone in two counties has stalled. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil is considering another chemical recycling site in the U.S. along with new facilities in Europe or Asia as part of a global expansion of capacity aiming at a target of 1 billion pounds of advanced recycling capacity by the end of 2026, or a little less than 500,000 metric tons. ExxonMobil produces more than 5 million metric tons of traditional plastics annually.