Despite objections from the Clean Air Council (CAC), Pennsylvania’s Environmental Hearing Board (EHP) is given the okay for a new circular recycling and manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania. The facility will recycle plastic waste and use the end products for manufacturing.
The CAC took legal action to stop construction of the plant on numerous grounds, including maintaining that a letter sent by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to the company building the plant was a “final agency action” by the department. The EHB said that was not the case. Their decision cleared the way for the DEP to continue working with the company, Encina, to get the plant built and operational.
Encina uses an advanced recycling process to capture benzene, toluene, and p-xylene from industrial plastic waste. The three chemicals are then sold for manufacturing.
Recycling, Manufacturing, or Both?
Among the reasons for the CAC’s action against Encina were concerns about environmental damage. Encina took their position based, at least in part, on Pennsylvania’s regulations for solid waste management. Encina countered by demonstrating that their business model is more about manufacturing than recycling. That being the case, they do not have to meet the same standards as typical solid waste management providers.
Both the EHB and DEP apparently agreed with Encina. Though the company still needs to tie up some loose ends and correct some things on their application form, there isn’t much still standing in their way. Once they cross all their T’s and dot all their I’s, they are expected to get final approval from the DEP.
The question remains as to what Encina actually does. Irrespective of what their process means in relation to PA solid waste regulations, is the company actually recycling or manufacturing? Technically, they are doing both.
Industrial plastic waste constitutes the raw materials the company uses to make the three chemicals they sell to manufacturers. The three chemicals are completely new products that are derived through an advanced recycling process. Therefore, the company is correct in asserting that they manufacture.
A Different Process in Tennessee
In order to make this easier to understand, we can compare what Encina does with the process employed by Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics. Seraphim Plastics utilizes a mechanical recycling process to transform industrial scrap plastic into regrind. But they are not actually manufacturing anything from raw materials. They are simply changing the state of the plastic waste they purchase.
Seraphim Plastics purchases materials like plastic purge, cutoffs, PET bottles, and plastic totes. The plastics they buy are run through a series of grinders and magnets to reduce them in size. What goes into the grinders as large chunks comes out the other end as small pellets. So again, Seraphim Plastics is only changing the state of the plastic. They would be subject to solid waste regulations if they were active in Pennsylvania. Things are different for Encina because they are creating new products from recycled materials.
Advanced Recycling Gets a Boost
Encina is likely pleased with the recent ruling. It allows them to proceed with a plan to build and begin production. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is one of 21 states to have enacted advanced plastic recycling regulations. Approving their project acknowledges as much while giving advanced recycling a boost.
As for the critics, it seems that their end goal is to eliminate plastic entirely. It is not a realistic goal no matter how many lawsuits they file or how many building projects they attempt to delay. Plastic is here to stay until we come up with a superior manufacturing material. And as long as this is the case, advanced recycling makes sense.