, - Posted on September 20, 2022

More Than 200 Organizations Urge Congress to Reject Federal Plastic Burning Legislation

Advocates warn Congress that industry-sponsored “advanced recycling” legislation will imperil public health and perpetuate the global plastic pollution crisis
Brett Nadrich, US Communications Officer

For Immediate Release – September 19, 2022

WASHINGTON – A coalition of more than 200 organizations from around the United States submitted letters to Congress today urging the rejection of any forthcoming industry-sponsored federal bill that would deregulate pyrolysis and gasification incinerators as a means to set the stage for a nationwide buildout of plastic burning infrastructure under the guise of so-called “advanced recycling”.

For decades, the plastics and chemical industries have failed to prove the technical feasibility, economic prudence, or the benefit to public and environmental health in using pyrolysis and gasification incinerators to treat mixed plastic waste. While they wait for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a ruling on a Trump-era proposal to exempt pyrolysis and gasification incinerators from air emissions regulations under the Clean Air Act, the industry is now working with members of Congress to introduce a bill that would reclassify these old incineration technologies as manufacturing rather than solid waste disposal, effectively stripping pyrolysis and gasification incinerators of public health protections that have been in place for over 30 years.

The vast majority of what the industry refers to as “advanced recycling” are actually plastic-to-fuel operations where plastic feedstocks are partially burned to create diesel fuels or synthetic gas (syngas). These fuels are typically burned onsite or blended with cleaner commercial fuels and burned elsewhere. There is ample evidence to suggest that uncontrolled emissions from these processes pose significant health and safety risks for local populations, placing a heavy toxic burden on workers and surrounding communities, the majority of which are low-income communities and communities of color.

The letter states: “If chemical manufacturers can operate pyrolysis and gasification facilities in compliance with Clean Air Act protections, as they claim, then why are they fighting to remove these federal health protections? If they cannot meet these basic protections, the last thing Congress should do is exempt them from pollution control laws. It would be unconscionable for any member of Congress to endorse and enable the chemical manufacturers’ plans to evade federal health protections for incinerating plastic, particularly in the face of a global plastic pollution crisis and the projected tripling of plastic waste.”

Calling pyrolysis and gasification “advanced recycling” does not change what they are: heavily polluting, inefficient, and energy-intensive means of burning fossil fuel plastics. To the extent they create anything other than air pollution, their product is a form of chemical waste that is burned again later as hazardous waste or dirty industrial fuel – causing yet more air pollution. This is incompatible with a climate-safe future, and arguably even more destructive for the planet than burning fossil fuels directly. So-called “advanced recycling” moves the plastics from the landfills to the atmosphere, and into our lungs. 

With global plastic production expected to triple by 2050, the plastics industry is looking for ways to counter the growing movement to address plastic pollution at its source by dramatically reducing plastic production. If Congress enables these deceptive industry schemes and chooses to exempt pyrolysis and gasification units from Section 129 of the Clean Air Act, it will only incentivize unnecessary petrochemical expansion and the buildout of plastic incineration infrastructure, while deepening environmental injustice and locking us into a future plagued by rampant plastic production, waste and pollution.

Read the full letter here.

Press Contact

Brett Nadrich, US Communications Officer
Break Free From Plastic – brett@breakfreefromplastic.org

Graham Hamilton, US Policy Officer
Break Free From Plastic – graham@breakfreefromplastic.org

Quote Sheet: 

“Congress has a legal and moral obligation to uphold the regulatory standards that serve to protect vulnerable communities from toxic exposure by minimizing hazardous pollutants emitted during industrial processes. Burning plastic in order to create and combust low-quality fuels harms workers, communities and our environment. Burning plastic is a false solution led by Exxon, Dow, DuPont and others that created this problem and refuse to turn-off-the-tap to new plastic production. Will Congress side with fossil fuels or truly commit to centering the needs of environmental justice communities across the country?”
Yvette Arellano, Executive Director, Fenceline Watch

“The incineration of plastic emits some of the most toxic compounds known: dioxins, PCBs, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and toxic metals. Relying on incineration to support Big Plastic’s need for a solution to the plastic waste crisis instead of finding ways to reduce the production of plastic will only ensure that humanity continues to choke on plastic. Producing, transporting, and ultimately incinerating plastic will produce massive amounts of climate gases, release toxic emissions into environmental justice communities, and delay necessary actions to reduce the manufacturing of plastic.”
Jane Williams, Executive Director, California Communities Against Toxics

“The last thing Congress should be doing is weakening regulations for toxic technologies. As a nation, we should be focusing on real solutions to the plastic crisis like bending the curve down on the use of plastic and solutions like nontoxic reuse and refill systems.”
– Sarah Doll, National Director, Safer States 

“The US plastic recycling rate is an abysmal 5-6%. And now the plastics industry is promoting plastic burning as their preferred solution to the very plastic pollution crisis that they created. Congress should not be part of this charade and instead consider bills that actually reduce the production of plastics.”
– Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator

"Supporting technologies that improve the recycling rate and recovery of plastic at the end-of-life can play an important role in advancing the circular economy. However, technologies like pyrolysis and gasification that lock us further into fossil fuel infrastructure, create toxic emissions and byproducts, and do not recover plastic at its highest value and purity at scale should not be considered a strategic investment for any investor, including the public sector. From the American Sustainable Business Network's perspective, end-of-life solutions will not stem the rising tide of plastic production and pollution like upstream solutions and investments will."
– Stephanie Erwin, Director of Circular Economy Policy, American Sustainable Business Network

“‘Advanced recycling’ is advanced pollution: a toxic transfer of pollution to pollutants. ‘Advanced recycling’ does not turn off the tap of plastic production; it perpetuates the problem of pollution and injustice.”
Jackie Nuñez, Advocacy & Engagement Manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition and Founder of The Last Plastic Straw

"In a society that urgently needs to transition away from an extractive, fossil fuel economy, ‘chemical recycling’ is a distraction from real solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. Even worse, it's a dangerous source of toxic emissions that threatens the health of our planet and the people living in communities near these facilities. Congress can’t waste time falling for the industry’s latest bluff. Ending our plastic problem will require reducing the production of unnecessary single-use plastic, ensuring refill and reuse systems are prioritized, and moving away from toxic processes.”
—Christy Leavitt, Plastics Campaign Director, Oceana

“Protecting the public from toxic air pollution is incompatible with supporting the chemical industry’s efforts to allow uncontrolled burning of plastic waste. Congress and EPA must choose whether to defend people and communities, or side with the industry that has contaminated our planet with PFAS and covered it with plastic waste.”
– Daniel Rosenberg, Director of Federal Toxics Policy, Natural Resources Defense Council

“The plastics industry is asking Congress and the Biden Administration to exempt it from health and environmental safeguards so that it can burn plastics and other wastes in already-overburdened communities without doing anything to control the toxic pollution that results. If environmental justice means anything to them, our elected officials must stand up now and say ‘NO!’”
Jim Pew, Director Federal Clean Air Practice, Earthjustice  

“The plastics industry knows they have a waste problem so they're working overtime to rebrand old incineration technologies as ‘recycling.’ For decades they've tried to force these facilities in low-income communities, and for decades they've failed to prove the economic, public health, and environmental benefits of these false solutions. We don't want any plastic burning operations in our community, full stop.”
Lana Gulden, Chair of North Central Pennsylvania Group, Sierra Club

“The fossil fuel and plastics corporations that gaslight us about their blame in the climate crisis are repackaging incineration. Calling it ‘advanced recycling’ doesn’t make toxic, polluting  plastics magically disappear. It spreads the problems into the air, water, and land, usually in Black, brown, indigenous, and low-wealth communities. Congress must be smarter than this, protect frontline and fence-line communities, support real solutions like zero waste plans, and stop these polluters now.” 

Jessica Roff, US / Canada Regional Campaigner & Policy Advocate, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)

“Advanced recycling’ is a phrase dreamed up by the plastics industry to sidestep the global plastic crisis. Let's be clear: Advanced recycling isn't recycling at all. The unregulated burning of plastic – as proposed by industry lobbyists – would simply move the problem from our oceans and landfills to the air we breathe. We need to call this greenwashing what it is: an effort by the plastics industry to profit at the expense of our health. Unsurprisingly, many of these toxic plastic-burning facilities are located in low-income neighborhoods or communities of color, which are already overburdened by pollution. These facilities must not be exempted from clean air protections. Moms Clean Air Force strongly opposes the rumored ‘advanced recycling’ legislation, and urges Congress to reject this disingenuous campaign by the plastics industry.” 

– Melody Reis, Senior Legislative Manager, Moms Clean Air Force


About Break Free From Plastic#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 11,000 non-governmental organizations and individuals from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the shared values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain—from extraction to disposal—focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.


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