Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed chemical recycling legislation favored by the plastics industry on Dec. 22, turning back calls by environmental groups that wanted her to veto it.
The American Chemistry Council praised Whitmer's decision, saying the new law will encourage more investment in plastics recycling infrastructure, while opponents said it would increase environmental pollution. They promised to heighten oversight of the facilities.
Michigan is now the 21st state in the last five years to pass the industry-backed legislation, which says such facilities will be regulated as manufacturing operations rather than as solid waste incinerators. ACC calls the technology "advanced recycling."
"Advanced recycling diverts plastics from landfills, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and use of natural resources to create new plastics compared to conventional manufacturing methods and creates new jobs and revenue streams," said Joshua Baca, ACC's vice president of plastics. "This new legislation can showcase Michigan's leadership in plastics recycling."
The chemical recycling language was a late and controversial addition within a much bigger package of solid waste and recycling reforms that passed the state Legislature in early December.
Green groups, which supported much of the broader package, sent a letter to Whitmer Dec. 12 urging her to veto it after the chemical recycling changes were added. Legislators passed the package in the closing days of the session in early December.
One of the groups that signed the Dec. 12 letter, the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, said after Whitmer signed the law that it would work to increase oversight of the facilities and hinted that political changes in the state House and Senate in January could help.
"In 2023, we are committed to addressing proper oversight of the facilities that benefited from the last-minute inclusion of the ACC language," said Christy McGillivray, legislative and political director for the chapter. "We know we will have stronger allies to work with next year, and we know the governor is committed to addressing many of the legacies left from the anti-environmental legislature that closed out 2022."
Democrats won control of the Legislature in the November elections, and with Whitmer, a Democrat, will hold the reins of the state government when new legislators are seated. Currently, Republicans control the Legislature.
Some industry sources, however, said they had bipartisan support for their recycling language, pointing to Whitmer signing it.
ACC said the changes will spur development of the facilities in the state and boost recycling.
"Regulating advanced recycling technologies as manufacturing operations, as more and more states are doing, will encourage investments in new advanced recycling facilities and manufacturing careers in the state, while contributing to a more sustainable Michigan," ACC said.
"It will also establish that these new innovative technologies are classified appropriately so they are regulated with the proper standards and not as solid waste incineration."
The Michigan Chemistry Council took issue with the claim that the chemical recycling language was a "last-minute" addition, noting similar provisions that MCC backed were debated in versions of the solid waste legislation in 2018, 2020 and 2021.
MCC Executive Director John Dulmes pointed to 2020 testimony he gave to lawmakers and said environmental groups oppose it "as part of a national campaign against chemical recycling."
He said the new law clarifies that chemical recycling facilities that use "source-separated post-use polymers" will be regulated as manufacturing plants, in the same way a plastic compounding operation that uses recycled materials is.
And he said the new law clarifies that fuels made with the processes will not be considered recycled products.
One legislator who opposed the industry's language predicted the facilities would be opposed by nearby communities.
"I voted no on this legislation, which seeks to promote gasification and pyrolysis of plastic waste," said state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Washtenaw, in a video he posted on TikTok. "I don't support burning our garbage. I know that the people who are downwind from these facilities are very concerned."