Plastics Recycling

C&EN has article in the May 16 issue listing seven companies working on recycling plastics. Here’s a summary of their technology. Most are pyrolyzing plastics to oils suitable for refining mostly for fuels, waxes or possibly reuse in plastics. Reuters surveyed 30 projects and found most shut down. I suspect the economics are unattractive. Products are not valuable enough.

The best–

Eastman Chemicals methanolysis of PET to make ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate. They also have CRT technology converting plastics to synthesis gas in their coal to methanol plant, then to acetic acid, then to cellulose acetate plastics. Might be viable.

Exxon Mobil has big recycling operation under construction in Baytown, TX. Might work. Hard to know. Could be for public relations.

Styrene monomer might be valuable enough to make polystyrene pyrolysis practical. Agilyx in Oregon seems a poor location but maybe a pilot facility.

Progress seems slow, but some plastic recycling could work out.

C&EN lists the following as companies turning recycled plastics into building blocks for new plastics. The list comes from the American Chemical Council.

Agilyx, Tigard, OR. Polystyrene pyrolysis to recover monomer to make new plastic. Recovered styrene monomer shipped to St. James, LA plant of REGENYX for polymerization. 14 partners including Exxon, Kroger, Mitsubishi

Alterra Energy, Akron, OH thermochemical liquefaction process technology, which transforms plastic destined for landfills back into petrochemical products that can be further refined. Makes pyrolysis oil suitable for refining into fuels, waxes, and maybe plastics. 60 ton per day plant opened 2020.

Braven Environmental, Zebulon, NC Pyrolysis of 1,2,4,5,6,7 plastic makes oil suitable for fuel and possibly new plastics. Main office Yonkers, NY. Partners with Chevron.

Eastman Chemical, Kingsport, TN. Methanolysis of PET to recover ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate. Also CRT technology to convert plastics to syn gas in their coal to methanol plant then to acetic acid and on to cellulose acetate products.…

ExxonMobil, Baytown, TX ExxonMobil plans to build its first, large-scale plastic waste advanced recycling facility in Baytown, Texas, and is expected to start operations by year-end 2022.

New Hope Energy, Tyler, TX Pyrolysis oil partnering with Dow for processing into plastics. Using Lummus technology.

Nexus Circular, Atlanta, GA HDPE, LDPE, PP and PS. Pyrolysis produces oil suitable for use in plastics. Shell and Chevron partner.

Reuters examined 30 projects by two-dozen advanced recycling companies across three continents and found most have closed down or are far behind schedule.…… Most ventures shutting down.


Reuters surveyed 30 projects and found most shut down. I suspect the economics are unattractive.

Several years ago I read an energy analysis of recycling various materials. Things such a paper and metals made sense, plastics did not.

On a side note, the Fool search engine used to be lame. Now they seem to have disappeared it altogether. Does anybody know where it went?


The best solution to the plastics problem is probably incineration with recovery of energy. But also more use of easily recycled plastics and biodegradable materials.

Metals do have the advantage that most are easy to recycle.

But much can be done with natural materials like starch, paper and cellulose.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently gave a Chevron refinery the green light to create fuel from discarded plastics as part of a climate-friendly initiative to boost alternatives to petroleum. But, according to agency records obtained by ProPublica and the Guardian, the production of one of the fuels could emit air pollution that is so toxic, one out of four people exposed to it over a lifetime could get cancer…

Under federal law, the EPA can’t approve new chemicals with serious health or environmental risks unless it comes up with ways to minimize the dangers. And if the EPA is unsure, the law allows the agency to order lab testing that would clarify the potential health and environmental harms. In the case of these new plastic-based fuels, the agency didn’t do either of those things. In approving the fuel, the EPA didn’t require any lab tests, air monitoring or controls that would reduce the release of the cancer-causing pollutants or people’s exposure to them.


I read the article but did not see identification of what “chemicals” they have in mind. If the feed is clean hydrocarbon plastics–polyethylene, polypropylene, even polystyrene, i see no problem. They can deal with the products if they need to. Like for example “carcinogenic” benzene.

If contaminated with chlorine from say vinyl you can get dioxins. If with nylon or urethanes you can get cyanides.

Recall those stories of fats dripping on your charcoal fire and making carcinogenic acrolien? If fats or vegetable oils are present that can happens. Also there are better wsys to reprocess pet plastics. Pyrolysis might make acetaldehyde which not especially toxic but reactive and maybe smelly.

Designers should anticipate all the problems and have plans to deal with them. Quality sorting of feed plastics is essential.

I doubt that the squaking is valid. Mostly just griping.