Federal funding may promote new markets for wasteful single-use plastics

Media Contacts
Juliana Clejan

Seven new DOE grants advance projects that would increase demand for polluting products


WASHINGTON – The Department of Energy (DOE) announced on Tuesday federal funding totaling $13.4 million for the research and development of facilities that would chemically convert single-use plastics into new plastic materials. 

While the department expressed concern over the carbon pollution produced by single-use plastic production, the funding tells a different story: all seven projects provide new, subsidized markets for disposable single-use plastics, products that advocates like PIRG have fought to reduce. Additionally, plastic-to-plastic technology is largely an experimental project, one which has huge environmental costs.

A 2020 report by GAIA found that since 2000, only three of the 37 so-called “chemical recycling” facilities proposed remain operational, and zero of the facilities have successfully produced new plastic from recovered plastic at scale, instead producing fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, no technology at the moment provides a net-positive energy balance, which directly contradicts the stated aim of this funding, to cut the carbon footprint of plastic production.

In response, Juliana Clejan, PIRG’s Zero Waste campaign associate, said the following:

“We know these so-called ‘chemical recycling’ technologies are resource intensive, polluting and ineffective even at recycling. While we admire the DOE for taking on the problem of plastic circularity, this funding inadvertently locks us into a future of continued use of the least necessary and most polluting plastics.”

PIRG Zero Waste Director Alex Truelove added: 

“Simply reducing the use of single-use plastic in the first place would save resources, energy and prevent leakage into the environment. We will never escape the problem of plastic waste if we keep finding ways to promote the most wasteful products.”