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DOE invests $14.5M in plastics recycling R&D

The funding is part of the department’s Plastics Innovation Challenge that aims to develop ways to reduce waste and recycle single-use plastics.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Washington, has announced it plans to invest up to $14.5 million for research and development to cut waste and reduce the energy used to recycle single-use plastics such as plastic bags, wraps and films. This funding is part of the department’s Plastics Innovation Challenge.

According to a news release from the DOE, this funding directed toward plastics recycling technologies will advance the department’s work to address the challenges of plastic scrap recycling and support the Biden administration’s efforts to build a clean energy economy and ensure the U.S. reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Innovation in plastics recycling technology is a triple win by cutting plastic waste we see in our everyday lives, reducing industrial energy use and resulting emissions, and creating clean manufacturing jobs for American workers,” says U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

According to the DOE, single-use plastics are “the largest subset of plastics found in landfills” and among the most challenging materials to recycle. The DOE reports that plastic production accounts for more than 3 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and uses roughly the same amount of oil around the world as the aviation industry. Yet, less than 10 percent of plastics are currently recycled, most of which are “downcycled” or repurposed into low-value products.

Through this funding opportunity, DOE says it will support a range of projects to develop economically viable solutions for converting plastic films to more valuable materials and design new plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable. These solutions can increase investments in recycling processes and recycling jobs in the United States, reduce the amount of plastics that end up in the environment and decarbonize the plastics industry.

“I’m thrilled with the announcement of this substantial federal investment in researching better ways to recycle and upcycle single use plastics. This has been a top priority of mine in the United States Congress and I launched the bipartisan Congressional Plastics Task Force in 2019 to help combat the plastic waste crisis in our country,” says U.S. Representative Haley Stevens. “I applaud Secretary Granholm and the Biden administration for taking this important step and look forward to working together to innovate recycling across America.”

The Plastics Industry Association (Plastics) has expressed its support of the DOE’s plans to provide $14.5 million in funding through the Plastics Innovation Challenge.

“We’re very encouraged to see the Biden Administration recognize the importance of recycling infrastructure to a sustainable, circular economy,” says Tony Radoszewski, Plastics president and CEO. “Plastics are at the center of life in the 21st century. We all enjoy their benefits every day. The Plastics Innovation Challenge will help us all to enjoy those many benefits with greater confidence about the effect we’re having on the environment. This is a great first step and the plastics industry will continue to work with the Biden administration and Congress to ensure that continued investment in America’s recycling infrastructure is included in any upcoming federal infrastructure package.”

Information on this new funding opportunity can be found on EERE Exchange. This funding opportunity builds on other related DOE investments, including the DOE’s Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE) Consortium and the Reducing Embodied energy And Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute. BOTTLE Consortium members have previously engineered an enzyme to better deconstruct polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as well as developed a new approach to deconstruct single-use polyethylene (PE) for use in new products.