Scrutiny builds as Michigan awaits first ‘chemical recycling’ facility

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This Clean-Seas facility in Newaygo is the proposed site of a new chemical recycling operation.


This Clean-Seas facility in Newaygo is the proposed site of a new chemical recycling operation.

Capital News Service

LANSING – When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed off on expansive recycling reforms in December 2022, she also approved a last-minute amendment allowing chemical recycling — a process decried by many environmentalists — to be classified as a legal manufacturing process.

Chemical recycling, specifically the commonly used plastic pyrolysis process, turns plastic into fuel.

Hard-to-recycle plastic is shredded, subjected to intensely high heat and pressure, then melted at the molecular level, says Jenny Gitlitz, the director of solutions to plastic pollution at Beyond Plastics. The nationwide project seeks to end plastic pollution and is based at Bennington College in Vermont.

The resulting product can be used to make fuel, more plastic or other chemicals. 

But not without consequences, critics say.

Gitlitz said the process itself creates environmentally harmful waste — greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, among them. 

Michigan is slated to get its own chemical recycling facility soon if legislative roadblocks don’t get in the way.

If the law remains unchanged, Clean-Seas Newaygo, a $20 million advanced recycling facility, will begin operations in Newaygo, according to Clean-Seas.

It’s a partnership between Clean-Seas, a global sustainable energy business, and American Classic, a construction and waste management company with offices in Greenville and Newaygo.

The facility will turn post-industrial and post-consumer waste plastic that would otherwise end up in landfills and incinerators into plastics, fuels, oils and hydrogen, according to Clean-Seas.

Clean-Seas Newaygo would employ up to 60 people and support economic development, advocates say — that is, if a Senate bill doesn’t stop the companies’ plans.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-West Bloomfield, said her bill would remove language in the Michigan Recycling Code that currently allows pyrolysis and gasification. The bill is also sponsored by Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Detroit.

“It just produces nasty stuff,” Bayer said. “It’s actually the grossest thing you’ve ever seen.”

She also said she hopes her bill would stop Clean-Seas Newaygo before it can start operations.

Dan Bates, the CEO of Clean-Seas’ global parent company Clean Vision Corp., said, “We are monitoring the progress of the law but are not commenting on it at this time.”

American Classic did not respond to requests for comment.

Mike Alaimo, the director of environmental and energy affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said Bayer’s bill would ruin the “large significant investments in both infrastructure and labor” that Newaygo’s facility offers.

Allowing chemical recycling is an important step in improving Michigan’s low recycling rate, Alaimo said.

Alaimo called the legislative proposal “disappointing.” 

“We have a lot of goals to drastically increase our recycling rates, and this is how you do it,” Alaimo said. “These materials aren’t capable of being recycled right now with traditional means.”

As for environmental concerns, Alaimo said the facility would still be subject to Michigan’s existing regulations on pollutants. 

He said it would have to follow all the rules and compliance standards of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the same as any other manufacturing facility.

Bayer’s bill is pending in the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

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