So far, 20 states have passed laws in the past few years to regulate chemical recycling as manufacturing. | JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock

In a letter to the EPA, 35 members of Congress urged the federal department to continue to regulate chemical recycling as combustion, not manufacturing, under the Clean Air Act.

“We ask that EPA continue to regulate pyrolysis and gasification units as waste combustion units so that the most vulnerable communities do not bear even more of a burden from existing facilities,” the letter said.

So far, 20 states have passed laws in the past few years to regulate the emerging industry as manufacturing, raising an outcry from environmentalists and praise from the American Chemistry Council.

The lawmaker letter was signed by Democrats, including Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Alan Lowenthal and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“We are writing to express our concern over recent investments in chemical recycling as a means to manage our growing plastic pollution crisis,” the letter said, pointing out “harmful downstream impacts of inadequately managed plastic waste,” rising greenhouse gas emissions and environmental injustice in “vulnerable communities located near polluting petrochemical facilities.”

The lawmakers warned that any changes in how the facilities are regulated could negatively affect air emissions in the communities where the facilities are located, “disproportionately impacting minority and low-income communities.”

“Chemical recycling facilities emit highly toxic chemicals, including benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylenes and dioxins, many of which are linked to cancer, nervous system damage and negative effects on reproduction and development,” the letter said. “The plastic and petrochemical industry has lobbied at the state level to eliminate emission control requirements for incinerators using these technologies, exposing vulnerable fenceline communities to toxic emissions from these processes.”

The letter also called on the EPA to bring existing powers granted by Section 114 of the Clean Air Act to bear on the industry in order to collect emissions information.

“Communities located near these facilities need to know what chemicals they are being exposed to, and they need the full protection that Congress intended the Clean Air Act’s incinerator standards to provide,” the letter said.

The lawmakers also said the way to address growing plastic pollution levels is to reduce the production of new plastics.

“Chemical recycling technologies, specifically pyrolysis and gasification, are forms of iincineration and do not help us achieve new source reduction,” the letter said, adding that “chemical recycling will not solve our plastics crisis and it removes incentives for industry to design their products to transition to a circular economy.”

It noted that while they support the EPA’s work toward making sure the country reaches the national goal of a 50% recycling rate by 2030, “we were disappointed to see EPA include chemical recycling in Part One of the National Recycling Strategy.”

“There is no way to guarantee that the feedstocks created through these processes are used to produce new plastics, meaning that they may not advance a circular economy,” the letter warned. “Instead of leading to the recovery of plastic and supporting the transition to a circular economy, pyrolysis and gasification lead to the release of more harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases.”

More stories about legislation