This holiday season, Pennsylvanians gathered with friends and family to celebrate, filled with meals, decorations, lights, music, gifts, and a cheerful spirit. As we gather for the holidays, think about how the products that we purchase from a retail shelf or online service came to be. Long before the toy, decoration, food packaging, electronics, lights or gift wrap made its way from a warehouse to a truck to the store shelf, it all started with chemistry. 

The contributions of the chemical and polymers industry are significant. The economic impacts are significant. According to the American Chemistry Council, the chemical and plastics industries inject over $14 billion, support over 90,000 direct and indirect jobs, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes annually. However, the impacts on our daily lives may not be as obvious.

Manufacturing starts with chemistry, which is the building block for nearly every product we use every day. Chemistry is responsible for nearly every healthcare product and medical equipment, as the building blocks for cleaner energy options, high-performing building materials, food packaging, electronics, clothing, vehicles, and more.

While some in our society believe we can ban chemical production and put a halt to plastics manufacturing, the reality is that modern society needs continued chemical and plastics production and demand is expected to increase. As you read this editorial, picture every activity in your life in a single day and then remove every aspect that is made from chemistry. It’s not just impractical, it’s impossible.

Talk is easy, the investments Pennsylvania’s chemical and polymer manufacturers are making to find new, safe, and innovative ways to make their products more sustainable are significant. Our Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council (PCIC) members are advancing sustainability, expanding advanced recycling and decarbonizing supply chains, and driving substantial environmental benefits. All with the highest level of safety standards in the world.  

For more than 35 years, companies practicing Responsible Care® have worked to significantly enhance their environmental, health, safety, and security performance. Responsible Care® is the industry’s world-class framework to advance a safe and sustainable chemical industry while empowering our industry to manufacture the products consumers rely on every day.  

While innovative companies are leading the way to harness new technological innovations to reduce emissions, reduce waste, and recycle more, legislators and regulators at the state and federal levels must enact sound policies that advance sustainability efforts.

One example is The Solid Waste Management Act - Act 127 of 2020 which paved the way for the deployment of advanced recycling technologies in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania is one of 24 states nationwide to appropriately regulate advanced recycling technologies as manufacturers and not waste facilities. This important distinction provides regulatory certainty to attract new economic investment while ensuring full compliance with the Pennsylvania DEP and EPA permitting, and all other relevant regulatory permitting approvals.  

At a basic level, advanced recycling utilizes post-use plastics, which may otherwise be landfilled or incinerated, as chemical feedstocks to create new products.  Mechanical recycling is effective for some plastic and involves soaking and shredding plastic material.  Advanced recycling focuses on hard-to-recycle materials such as to-go containers, wrappers, yogurt cups, bags, and other packaging, and uses a technology process to convert plastic materials back into their basic chemical form. When used in collaboration, both mechanical and advanced recycling technologies are effective solutions to help address the global plastic waste challenge.   

Legislation around advanced recycling paves the way for manufacturers to utilize circular feedstocks as inputs to manufacture new products and reduces the need to make new plastics from finite resources.  The advanced recycling legislation also has the potential to attract significant economic development projects like Encina’s Point Township Circular Manufacturing facility proposed for Northumberland County.

Reducing plastic waste while manufacturing the products consumers rely on every day will take collaboration and innovative solutions. We need to look to the future and chart a path forward that brings innovators, regulators, and policymakers together to develop smart policies, grounded in reality that drive real environmental solutions while unleashing economic growth.

Working together, we can move toward a more sustainable future led by the men and women of our industry who are paving the way for a better tomorrow, today.

Steven Kratz is the President of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council representing chemical, polymer, and associated manufacturers and industry suppliers and service providers in Pennsylvania. 


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