It doesn’t matter if you’re team dark meat or team light meat, we can all agree that disposable dinnerware is a blessing for your Thanksgiving host. 

Cooking is fun. Cleanup is not. 

Fear not, my environmentally conscious host. Innovations brought to you by the chemical industry can take away the guilt of single-use place settings.  

Across the country, companies such as Brightmark Energy, Vadxx and Agilyx are converting those hard-to-recycle plastics into a versatile mix of new chemicals, feedstocks, products and even more environmentally friendly transportation fuels. 

Rigid plastics, including bottles, are collected and recycled with success, but plastics such as polystyrene clamshell food containers, candy wrappers and plastic bags historically have been more of a challenge to recycle. 

Enter the chemical industry, bringing a solution to the table. 

The process is basic chemistry. The plastics are delivered for processing, contaminants are removed, and the plastics are heated, causing a change in chemical composition, and then cooled and condensed into fuels or feedstock for new petroleum-based products, such as plastic bags, bottles and containers. 

Because the molecules do not degrade in this process, it can be repeated indefinitely, creating a completely circular life cycle for a product.   

Combustion does not occur because oxygen is absent from this process. As a result, these facilities produce low or no emissions with a small environmental footprint.

The technologies for advanced chemical recycling and plastics-to-fuel have been proven and available for more than a decade, but through advancements and shifts in the market they did not become economically viable until the last three to five years. 

The global middle class is growing. Access to modern conveniences made possible by plastics is improving living standards, hygiene, nutrition and the quality of life for billions of people, but the challenge of waste management is also growing. 

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste is an industry-led group working to educate, innovate and develop waste management infrastructure and drive cleanup efforts to keep plastic waste in the right place.

And innovations such as advanced chemical recycling and plastics-to-fuel are being driven by these industry leaders conscious of the impacts of pollution when waste is not managed. 

Plastics are integral to our life, and certainly a challenge of consumerism is waste. 

Fortunately, thanks to chemistry, we do not have to sacrifice the tools and products of modern society or revert to a reduced quality of life. 

Plastics made it possible for those greens in your festive cranberry walnut salad to stay fresh from farm to table, and the plastic packaging in your overnighted Amazon delivery kept those pumpkin-scented candles in one piece. 

Our holiday season festivities come full circle. That plane, train or automobile that transports you to loved ones near and far just might be fueled by the plates and forks from your Thanksgiving meal last year. 

 So, as you gather around the table set with festive disposable dinnerware, give thanks for another innovation toward a more sustainable future, brought to you by the chemical industry. 

It is widely understood that the chemical and petrochemical industry are an economic driver for Pennsylvania, as this $24 billion industry supports more than 80,000 employees and generates more than $1 billion in annual taxes.

However, it recently came to my attention that many are acutely unaware of industry’s active role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through process improvements, innovative products and new technology.

Pennsylvania’s natural gas liquids have provided the petrochemical industry a more affordable and environmentally friendly feedstock. Chemical building blocks such as ethylene make possible innovations deployed across industries to reduce GHG emissions.

For example, plastic-based building materials, such as insulation and sealants improve energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption for commercial and residential buildings, ultimately lowering the carbon footprint for large cities like Pittsburgh.

Across transportation, plastic parts have reduced vehicle weight, resulting in improved fuel economy and reduced emissions.

And industry is leading the way toward a circular economy with advanced recycling, enabling manufacturers to convert hard-to-recycle plastics into new chemicals, products, feedstocks and low-sulfur transportation fuels.

But it doesn’t stop there. Efficiency improvements in chemical manufacturing processes drive greater economic output from each energy unit, ultimately helping the world’s largest manufacturers transition to a low-carbon economy.

Chemical and petrochemical companies are a critical ally in reaching state and national emission reduction goals because the chemical industry supports more than 25 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, from 1970 to 2017, U.S. gross domestic product increased by 262 percent while carbon emissions decreased by 23 percent. 

And in Pennsylvania, the Department of Environmental Protection reports that in 2015, statewide greenhouse gas emissions had fallen by 12 percent from 2000 levels. 

In a nutshell, because chemicals provide the building blocks for the products we use every day, leadership from this industry has resulted in economy-wide GHG emission reductions that span the entire value chain.

Many of these global leaders, responsible for innovations addressing climate change, have chosen to do business here in Pennsylvania.

I’ll hit a few highlights: 

  • BASF, a global chemical producer with operations in Monaca and Erie developed a special range of underwater grouts that can absorb enormous loads, enabling the safe development of wind turbines to produce renewable energy offshore; 
  • Covestro, a leading polymer materials supplier with U.S. headquarters in Pittsburgh developed a new technology to harness waste carbon emissions from power plants and use it to manufacture a raw material that can be used for flexible foam, found in mattresses, furniture and more; 
  • Braskem, a global petrochemical company with U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia, operations in Marcus Hook and a research-and-development facility in Pittsburgh has been ranked as one of the world’s most innovative companies for research in products made from renewable resources, reducing the need for the production of new raw materials; 
  • Dow, a leader in performance materials, industrial intermediates and plastics businesses with operations in Bristol and Spring House and a Technology Innovation Center Hub in Collegeville, has developed silicone solutions to prevent energy dense battery packs from overheating in electric vehicles;
  • and Eastman Chemical Company, a global advanced materials and specialty additives company with operations in Jefferson Hills has released carbon renewal technology to break down waste plastics into molecular building blocks like carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. 

These companies also serve their local communities by spearheading an array of environmental initiatives.

To name just a few: 

  • Covestro hosted a series of THINC30 Tanks in 2019 to advance the global U.N. sustainable development goals in the local community and was instrumental in the transformation of a blighted property into the Energy Innovation Center, a LEED platinum-certified community space promoting the use of clean technologies; 
  • in 2018, Braskem entered into a nine-year sustainability-focused partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles, building on the team's long-standing commitment to environmental and community development programs; 
  • specialty chemical maker, Albemarle Corporation opened a 50-acre public nature trail and wildlife habitat to conserve and showcase wetlands next to their facility in Tryone; 
  • and a recent donation from Shell Chemicals will increase Beaver County Municipal Recycling’s operations and implement school and community based recycling programs. 

PCIC recognizes the global challenges presented by a changing climate. While the U.S. has made significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, continued commitment and a comprehensive economy-wide approach is critical to addressing this long-term challenge.

A sustainable policy requires a cultural change and participation from both the public and private sector. 

The chemical and petrochemical manufacturing industry contributions in this area should be recognized and industry considered an ally as we advance toward a more sustainable economy. 

This week, on behalf of our members, the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council sent a letter to each Pennsylvania legislator to voice opposition to House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 510. This proposed legislation would increase all consumer electric bills, including those of the state’s chemical and petrochemical manufacturers.

According to an analysis by the Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania, if nuclear power generation were to be added to the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, the state’s industrial consumers would face at least $192 million in additional electricity costs annually.

Small manufacturers could annually pay an extra $60,000 on average, while larger manufacturers could see a nearly $2 million annual increase in electric costs. Large manufacturers with multiple facilities could face a nearly $4 million annual hike.

Deregulation in Pennsylvania has allowed competitive markets to drive energy prices, which has resulted in consumers, including our members, benefiting from new and more efficient electric generation sources. It also has allowed consumers, rather than utility companies, to drive the market.

The economic advantage of new energy resources has spurred billions of dollars of private investment in Pennsylvania’s $24 billion chemical industry. These investments have energized communities all over Pennsylvania — the state’s chemical industry supports more than 80,000 jobs, generating more than $410 million in state and local taxes and $933 million in federal taxes yearly.

With the right policies in place, more investment and job growth will be realized.

PCIC members appreciate nuclear power’s role in our electric grid and the benefit of a diverse energy portfolio; however, all plants but Three Mile Island (TMI) remain profitable and competitive, and PJM Interconnection, the electric grid operator, forecasts no change in reliability upon TMI’s retirement.

If this legislation were to be passed, Public Utility Commissioner Andrew Place stated, “... the subsidization of such a significant portion of the wholesale energy market would be distortional to competitive market prices.” Place noted that the legislation does not provide certainty that threatened nuclear plants will not close (continue reading).

Essentially, it would leave little of the electric market to competitive choice, negating the benefits realized by electric deregulation. A free market approach to energy benefits the consumer, while driving private investment in innovation.

While the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard provides a government-mandated “leg up” to renewables, the Legislature chose at that time to support new and emerging alternative technologies, not recognized industries, so they would have the opportunity to become established within the commonwealth.

PCIC’s members support advancements in carbon emission reductions; however, the nuclear industry in Pennsylvania does not represent new and emerging advancements in renewable technologies, and carve-outs simply would prop up individual power plants that are no longer economically viable, using taxpayer dollars better invested elsewhere.

The opportunity for chemical and petrochemical manufacturing growth in the region is projected at $36 billion in new capital investment and 100,000 new jobs by 2025. As the state works to attract these energy-intensive users, energy costs, policy and regulation will play a critical role in securing or deterring investment.

With more than $1 billion in profits projected for 2018-19, Pennsylvania’s nuclear industry, as a whole, is not at risk. Pennsylvania’s competitive electric market is working, and we ask our representation in the Legislature to protect consumers by opposing House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 510.

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