The U.S. government announced Jan. 11 it is awarding $13.4 million in research grants to seven projects aimed at cutting the energy consumption and carbon footprint of single-use plastics.
The projects, including $2 million to Braskem America Inc. for work on bio-based films, are part of Department of Energy-funded research on technologies to reduce the environmental impact of plastics.
"Single-use plastics generate large amounts of carbon pollution when produced, are hard to recycle and dirty our nation's beaches, parks and neighborhoods," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
"By advancing technologies that repurpose single-use plastics and make the materials biodegradable, we can hit a trifecta of reduced plastic waste, fewer emissions from the plastics industry and an influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers," she said.
The DOE statement said that plastic production accounts for more than 3 percent of U.S. energy consumption, and it said the projects are targeting plastic films and designing new plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable.
The funding recipients include Braskem, for developing "infinitely recyclable" films; Iowa State University, $2.5 million, for upcycling closed-loop film into biodegradable polymers; and Michigan State University, $1.7 million, for designing "inherently recyclable plastics."
Other recipients are North Carolina A&T University, $2.5 million, for using plasma treatment to reformulate plastics; TDA Research, $1.6 million, for work on recyclable and biodegradable food packaging film; the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, $1.6 million, for delamination of plastic film; and West Virginia University, $1.5 million, for using microwave catalysis to recycle film.
One environmental organization, the Public Interest Research Group, criticized DOE for supporting projects that it said encourage single-use plastics, even if they are aimed at increasing recycling.
“All seven projects listed require inputs of single-use plastic including packaging and foodware, providing new, subsidized markets for the very disposable products that advocates like PIRG have fought to reduce,” the group said in a Jan. 12 statement.
PIRG also criticized using chemical recycling technologies, saying they are not producing new plastics at a significant scale and have not been shown to have a “net-positive” energy balance that reduces carbon impacts.