A key local leader is backing away from a massive plastics recycling facility in Georgia, saying the proposed facility is "simply not worth it for us."
But Brightmark Energy still wants to "move forward" with a $680 million chemical recycling project despite opposition from Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller.
"After careful consideration of the Brightmark project, I believe it is in the best interest of the people of Macon-Bibb County that we withdraw our support. While you should and will continue to support green energy, economic development and technology jobs, we cannot ignore the long-term safety concerns of this process that have been raised in the last several weeks," Miller said in a letter to the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority.
Brightmark, which currently operates a plastics recycling facility in Ashley, Ind., using pyrolysis, is eyeing a Macon site as a way to create a second, much larger location with the same technology. The 5.3 million-square-foot location would be the world's largest plastics recycling facility, the company said.
Pyrolysis has been around for decades and is viewed by some as a way to unlock the value of hard-to-recycle plastics. While the technology is proven, the long-term economic viability of the widespread use of pyrolysis remains to be seen.
Pyrolysis is a form of chemical recycling where plastics are heated in the absence of oxygen to create hydrocarbons that can then be used to make various products, including naphtha, fuels and waxes. Pyrolysis, sometimes called advanced recycling, differs from traditional and less expensive mechanical recycling, where resins are commonly segregated by type, shredded, melted, cleaned and used again all while remaining plastics throughout the process.
"Plastic-to-plastic seems to be working out pretty well, but plastic-to-fuel is kind of untested and certainly we don't want to do anything that's going to adversely affect our environment here in Macon-Bibb County," the mayor said on a local WMAZ newscast.
Withdrawal of support by the mayor creates an interesting dynamic surrounding the proposal that also involves the industrial authority.
Brightmark is looking to the industrial authority to issue $500 million in bonds to help pay for the project. The company, not the authority, would assume financial responsibility for repaying the money raised through the bonds.
"We respect the concerns expressed by Mayor Miller. MBCIA leadership will take these concerns under advisement as MBCIA complies with procedural requirements of agreements in place with Brightmark, the state and other stakeholders in the project," the authority said in a statement obtained by WMAZ.
Brightmark, for its part, is looking to move forward with the project despite the mayor's misgivings.
"We're eager to demonstrate the overwhelmingly positive effects of plastics renewal technology, along with the immediate and long-term economic growth that this project will drive, for Macon-Bibb County," the company said in a statement. "We are confident that this project will continue to move forward, comply with all environmental permitting requirements and demonstrate its positive impact on the environment in this community."