Brett A. Vassey column: Advanced recycling bill will attract jobs, help create a more sustainable future

Brett A. Vassey column: Advanced recycling bill will attract jobs, help create a more sustainable future

Our commonwealth is facing many important challenges these days, from fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to finding new ways to create a better world for future generations of Virginians.

One of our most pressing environmental challenges is plastic waste in the environment. Plastics have many important benefits that make life easier, keep us safe and healthy, protect our food from spoilage, make cars lighter and more fuel efficient, and build more energy-efficient homes — but plastic waste never belongs in the environment. Advanced recycling technologies can help keep plastic waste out of landfills and the environment by converting plastics into their original building blocks, so we can reuse them to produce valuable new products.

The Virginia Manufacturers Association shares a common vision with the members of the Virginia Recycling Association (VRA) in growing Virginia’s economy in a way that protects and promotes our many wonderful natural resources, which are a treasure to the commonwealth and its residents. In offering its support of advanced recycling, and its potential to grow our economy and advance our environmental goals, the VRA offers this perspective:

“Recycled materials are a valuable link in a chain that provides raw materials to manufacturers, providing a cost-effective way to make their products while reducing their environmental footprint. Core recyclable materials, such as metals, #1 and #2 plastics, cardboard and other paper, are collected and processed at advanced recycling material recovery facilities throughout the commonwealth and provide valuable feedstock to the manufacturing industry. Advanced recycling processes make it possible to recycle #3 to #7 plastics while maintaining established markets for #1 and #2 plastics, metals, cardboard and paper. The material recovery facilities serve an important role and should be fully regulated as manufacturers, rather than solid waste facilities.”

A 2019 report by Closed Loop Partners estimated there is a $120 billion economic opportunity directly connected to the commercialization of advanced recycling technologies. There’s an entire industry of green jobs and investment ready to provide new economic opportunities, while helping us keep plastic waste out of the environment and out of landfills. Neighboring states already have started to make these investments. Just recently in Tennessee, Eastman announced it is building a new $250 million advanced recycling facility — one of the world’s largest — that will recycle 220 million pounds of plastic waste that previously couldn’t be recovered. Virginia has one facility and could benefit from several more.

The good news is that Virginia has a real opportunity to be a national leader. The legislature is considering Senate Bill 1164, a bill that will ensure advanced recycling operations fully are regulated as manufacturers, rather than solid waste facilities. Passing this bill would ensure Virginians enjoy the economic and environmental benefits of advanced recycling manufacturing.

Enabling more of these innovative facilities in Virginia will create new demand for local recycling programs and recycling centers that will process waste plastics currently destined for landfills into usable raw material. Nine states — Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin — already passed similar legislation.

A 2017 report from sustainability consulting firm Good Company found that advanced recycling technologies have a lower environmental footprint than other facilities, including hospitals and universities.

Industry already is moving to expand the role of advanced recycling, which will help spur economic development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Virginia’s advanced recycling bill just overwhelmingly passed the Senate, with a 34-4 vote. We urge the House to support SB 1164, which would give Virginia an opportunity to be a leader in building a more circular and sustainable economy, reducing waste and pollution, and taking an important step toward cleaner air and waterways for a healthier commonwealth.

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