Despite growing awareness of the profound climate impacts and health hazards associated with petroleum-derived materials, the petrochemical industry is growing. The ongoing industry buildout continues to disproportionately harm low-income communities and communities of color, who are also exposed to toxic chemicals at higher rates, are those most threatened by climate change, and face a host of other environmental, social, political and economic injustices.


Our new Petrochemicals, Plastics & Climate program builds on CEH’s decades of experience supporting institutions to procure safer products, advocating for equitable and health-protective laws and policies, working with communities to safeguard their health and rights, and holding corporations and government accountable for actions or inactions that threaten human and planetary health. Our initial focus areas are 1) supporting institutions to reduce their plastic and petrochemical consumption, 2) curtailing harmful plastic and petrochemical waste management practices such as so-called “chemical recycling”, and 3) identifying and addressing toxic threats from petrochemicals and plastics.


Learn more about Petrochemicals, Plastics & Climate.


5 Things You Should Know About So-Called “Chemical Recycling”


The oil and gas industry’s race to replace fossil fuel production with increased plastic production is critically reliant on the myth of plastic’s recyclability. However, EPA estimates that less than 9% of plastic in the U.S. gets recycled each year. 


An especially harmful component of the petrochemical buildout, and the sector’s recycling myth, involves the promotion of so-called “advanced” or “chemical recycling.” Using the false rhetoric of “waste-to-energy” and “waste-to-chemicals,” in reality, these practices amount to incineration of plastic waste. Here are five things you should know about this dangerous practice. 


1). Recent restrictions by countries that historically accepted plastic waste imports have put pressure on the plastic industry to manage plastic waste differently, resulting in the accelerated buildout of plastic incineration. 


2). Data suggest that the pollution from “chemical recycling” incinerators is as bad as–or worse than–the toxic pollution from conventional incinerators. 


3). A recent analysis by NRDC found that of the eight “chemical recycling” facilities assessed, most were not recycling any plastic.


4). These plastic burning facilities are often sited in communities of color or low-income communities that already face multiple threats to their environmental health, among a range of other injustices. 


5). The petrochemical and plastic industries are promoting this harmful practice through familiar greenwashing conventions, including false promises of sustainable economic development for low income and rural communities and underhanded policy plays. This propaganda has even been effective among some progressive, environmentally-conscious policy makers. Laws permitting chemical recycling have been adopted in 18 states.


Luckily, communities are fighting back, and some are winning. CEH is joining with allies across the country to raise awareness of the myths and harms of so-called “chemical recycling.” We’re  using a range of strategies to block its buildout, prevent efforts to deregulate this practice, ensure these facilities are not eligible for green energy incentives, and emphasize the importance of upstream solutions to the plastic waste crisis.

The plastics industry has worked tirelessly to classify so-called “chemical recycling” as “manufacturing” and not “incineration” or “disposal”. But they have said little about the contributions to decades of legacy pollution in disadvantaged communities. Recent executive orders and legislative packages by the Biden Administration have revived the mandate for all agencies to create a plan to achieve environmental justice. CEH is preparing a report to expose “chemical recycling” as an emergent environmental injustice, and empower community members to use emergent policy, regulatory, and litigation strategies to creatively resist plastic burning facilities. We will highlight the struggle against so-called “chemical recycling” as critical to the overall question of how to reduce the overall presence of plastics in the environment without exacerbating legacy pollution. We can and must do both.

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Tens of Millions of Plastic Containers Treated with Fluorine Gas Leach Toxic PFAS Chemicals into Art and Cleaning Supplies, Food, and Other Household Products


CEH and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a lawsuit in December under federal environmental law to prevent Inhance Technologies USA of Houston, Texas, from generating toxic PFAS or “forever chemicals” when fluorinating plastic containers, in violation of EPA regulations.


Testing conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Notre Dame researchers, and other organizations has found PFAS chemicals on the inner and outer surfaces of fluorinated containers and in the contents of the containers. The PFAS in the containers are likely formed as a result of chemical reactions that occur during the fluorination process, which is used to create a barrier between the container and its contents. Inhance operates 11 facilities in the US and fluorinates an estimated 140 million containers annually, putting countless people at risk of exposure to toxic PFAS.

“These PFAS-laden containers present an ongoing danger to workers, consumers, and the environment. The fluorination process contributes to the overall prevalence of this already-ubiquitous class of chemicals, and could be introducing PFAS into the recycling stream, as many of these containers bear recycling symbols. Inhance, the company that performs most of the fluorination in the U.S., has refused to comply with TSCA and must be ordered to stop this unsafe practice for the health of workers, nearby communities, consumers, and all who encounter these commonly-used containers or the products stored in them.”

-Sarah Packer, Director of CEH’s Petrochemicals, Plastics & Climate program

“The TSCA requirements that Inhance violated were intended to provide important safeguards against the manufacture of dangerous PFAS that EPA has sought to eliminate from commerce. Inhance’s unwillingness to comply with these requirements has resulted in unnecessary and harmful exposure to PFAS by millions of Americans.”

-Bob Sussman, CEH counsel and former senior EPA official

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