Illinois and Ohio have become the most recent states to pass laws making it easier to build chemical recycling facilities, regulating them as recycling operations rather than waste processing plants.
Such factories take waste plastics and turn them into fuels or feedstocks, using technologies like gasification or pyrolysis to break plastics back down into monomers and feedstocks. Pushing laws to ease their construction is a legislative priority for the plastics industry.
Industry officials see it as a necessary change in state regulations to support their $1 billion Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which leans heavily on advancements in chemical recycling technologies to find a way to handle hard-to-recycle or lower-value plastic waste that can't be handled by traditional mechanical recycling.
Craig Cookson, senior director of recycling and recovery for the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council, said in an Aug. 15 statement that ACC welcomed the governors of both states signing the laws last month.
"Expanding access to chemical recycling facilities could help these states keep post-use plastics out of landfills, turn them into new materials, attract new businesses and support job creation," Cookson said.
Five states have passed similar laws this year and eight since 2017, he said. ACC said Illinois and Iowa join state governments in Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee and Texas in adopting the new laws.
A report from Closed Loop Partners said chemical recycling is potentially a $120 billion market in the United States and Canada.
In Illinois, ACC said converting 25 percent of the state's post-use plastics into fuels and manufacturing feedstocks could support 16 such facilities, generate $310 million in economic activity and provide fuel for 440,000 cars per year.
For Ohio, ACC estimated that 25 percent of its post-use plastics, along with similar materials collected within 100 miles of Ohio's border, would support 25 such facilities and generate $820 million in economic output.
While the Illinois law passed almost unanimously, the legislation has met with resistance in states like South Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas, where some lawmakers and environmental groups have raised concerns about the potential for those facilities to themselves pollute.
As well, they've questioned whether chemical recycling could over time cannibalize well-established markets for mechanical recycling of PET and high density polyethylene bottles.