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Waste & Recycling January 27, 2021 03:00:54 AM

Virginia Lawmakers are Considering Adding ‘Advanced Recycling’ to State Code. So What Exactly Is It?

Waste Advantage
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In Georgia, a Nexus Fuels plant in Atlanta says it is processing 50 tons per day of plastics.

Virginia Lawmakers are Considering Adding ‘Advanced Recycling’ to State Code. So What Exactly Is It?

SEATTLE (Waste Advantage): Plastics and recycling industries are looking toward a new solution: chemical recycling, often called advanced recycling. Nine states to date have passed laws recognizing the fledgling industry and differentiating it from solid waste management. Virginia is on the precipice of a similar move, which would build on a little-noticed measure passed by the General Assembly last year granting advanced recycling companies tax credits and exemptions. This year, the Virginia Manufacturers Association and American Chemistry Council are pushing for new changes to state code that would add a range of definitions related to advanced recycling, ultimately leading to its classification as a manufacturing rather than solid waste enterprise.

But as the bills began to move through the committee process, it quickly became evident that many lawmakers didn’t know what advanced recycling — or pyrolysis, or solvolysis, or depolymerization, other terms that would be defined by code — is or what it involves.

“Advanced recycling” is an umbrella term used to describe the conversion of plastics that have already been used into their fundamental chemical building blocks, which can then be used to develop new plastic-based products or fuels.

“This is not combustion,” said Craig Cookson, director of sustainability and recycling for the American Chemistry Council, a chemical company trade group. “This is a chemical process where you’re taking plastics and you’re converting them into a new usable commodity.”

On the most elementary level, the process involves putting shredded plastics into an oxygen-free vessel that is heated until the plastic melts and vaporizes. Its constituent parts can then be separated out to become fuel, waxes and lubricants, and what’s known as “feedstocks,” the basic materials used to manufacture other plastics and chemicals.

Chemical recycling, said Cookson, isn’t a replacement for our existing (mechanical) recycling processes but instead is complementary. Many plastics, particularly those used to package food like resealable pouches, are unable to be recycled using traditional methods but can be repurposed using chemical ones. An Oregon company, Agilyx, has told investors that while current mechanical processes are typically capable of recycling about 10 percent of all material they receive, its chemical approach could recycle as much as 90 percent.


Closed Loop Partners, an investment firm that focuses on the circular economy — economic activity that aims to repurpose and reuse materials and resources rather than discarding them — pegs the number of North American advanced recycling projects in the “early commercial” stage of development at just over two dozen.

A handful of these projects are in operation: the Agilyx plant in Tigard, Ore., is perhaps the best known. In Georgia, a Nexus Fuels plant in Atlanta says it is processing 50 tons per day of plastics.

Courtesy: www.wasteadvantagemag.com                        

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