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Maryland Bill Would Ban Chemical Conversion Of Plastic Into Fuel

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Plastic pollution is an ever-growing problem for the entire planet.

"If we don't do anything by 2050, we will have the weight of three million blue whales worth of plastic in our ocean," Maryland State Delegate Sara Love said.

Much of it isn't getting recycled. According to the EPA, only about 9% of plastic waste was recycled in 2018, and the demand to reuse that recycled material isn't high.

"Recycling only works if there are people who want to buy it to turn it into something new," Kate Breimann, Director of Environment Maryland, said.

Advanced recycling, or chemical recycling, is what some argue could help solve the problem.

Chemical recycling typically uses pressure or heat to break down plastic and turn it into liquid or gas that can then converted into new plastic or fuel.

"We see it as a tool to convert plastics back into plastics to their original natural state," said Dan Felton, Executive Director of the American Institute For Packaging & The Environment (Ameripen).

A new bill in the Maryland General Assembly, the first of its kind in the U.S., would ban the chemical conversion of plastic into fuel.

"In the process, it lets out a huge amount of carbon dioxide," Love, who is sponsoring the bill and also says chemical recycling locks Marylanders into continuing to depend on plastic, said.

"It's really a bad thing for our environment. It incentives the making of plastics," she said. "Chemical recycling is a false choice, it's a false solution… the solution is to reduce."

Breimann said making new fuel out of used plastic also pollutes the air.

"We certainly do not need a new fossil fuel stream as our state tries to take meaningful action to move away from fossil fuels," Breimann said.

Felton believes chemical recycling is part of the solution to the nation's recycling problems.

"If you take a technology off the table that could be helping address some of the exact same issues these policymakers are trying to tackle, we don't think that's the right choice," Felton said.

Others also oppose the bill, like Craig Cookson, from the American Chemistry Council.

"Advanced recycling is an innovative technology that helps recycling efforts in states and communities and allows for more types of plastics to be recycled," Cookson said in a statement to WJZ. "These facilities have the potential to keep plastics out of the environment and landfills while displacing the use of virgin natural resources with limited emissions.  Ten states have already taken legislative steps to allow advanced recycling facilities to open in their communities, including most recently in Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Given the current state of our nation's recycling infrastructure, it is not the time to ban new recycling technologies, something no state has done to date."

A spokesperson for Eastman Chemical Company, which operates a plastic producing facility in Chestertown, also does not agree with the proposed bill and provided the following statement to WJZ:

"While Eastman does not operate in the waste-to-fuel space, we do find HB 21 to be problematic because of its broad scope. The bill as written also includes prohibition of recycling facilities that would recycle plastic into feedstock through chemical conversion processes. Advanced recycling technologies that are material-to-material solutions, including Eastman's Advanced Circular Recycling technologies, are absolutely essential to expanding the type of plastics that can be recycled, so the world can solve the global plastic waste crisis. Eastman's recycling innovations convert plastic waste into new, reusable materials and HB 21 as written would close off this vital technology."

Delegate Love said this bill still has a long way to go, but she feels good about it advancing in the General Assembly.

The full bill can be viewed on the Maryland General Assembly website.

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