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Bill would encourage 'advanced recycling' in Indiana, but how much gets recycled?

A tube of toothpaste rests on top of a sink against a toothbrush. The toothbrush is grey and white with white and blue bristles.
Lauren Chapman
IPB News
Things like toothpaste tubes are often made up of multiple different kinds of plastics and some additives. Chemical recyclers aim to recycle these plastics that often aren't recyclable otherwise.

State lawmakers want to encourage more companies that chemically recycle plastic to come to Indiana.

Things like toothpaste tubes often can’t be recycled because they’re made up of multiple kinds of plastic and certain additives. Companies like Brightmark in northeast Indiana use heat and chemical processes to break down plastics into materials that can be used again.

Senate Bill 472 aims to regulate those businesses as advanced recycling manufacturers. That means they wouldn’t have to get a solid waste license and could possibly be eligible for state grants.

Craig Cookson directs plastic sustainability for the American Chemistry Council. He said this would make Indiana competitive with other states.

“Knowing what you’re going to face from the standpoint of regulation is very important and can be the difference between choosing another state," Cookson said.

The bill’s author, Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper), said it could help Indiana to reach its goal of recycling half its waste.

The bill has a laundry list of different processes that would be considered “advanced recycling.” But a University of Pittsburgh professor questions whether some of these chemical processes should be considered recycling at all.

Professor Eric Beckman researches polymer design. He said it’s not clear how much plastic these companies actually recycle — some of it gets burned as energy to power the plant or simply put into the air.

“Anything that’s burned, all you’re doing is like, ‘I’ve got this carbon, OK — could go in the ground or it could go up in the atmosphere. So that’s not really recycling, it’s still single use," Beckman said.

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Carbon dioxide in the air also contributes to climate change.

Beckman said some chemical recyclers also produce a byproduct called “char” which has to be sent to a landfill.

Beckman said he would consider one of the processes listed in the bill as recycling — solvolysis — which is what Proctor and Gamble uses.

“Polystyrene comes in with all its additives. You treat it and you get a nice, clean polystyrene out. And then you use it again — and that's great," he said.

Beckman said it’s important that Indiana and the U.S. get hard data on what these companies actually produce and how much of the waste actually becomes new, usable material.

He said, ultimately, to truly recycle plastics we need to design a plastic that is meant to be used more than once. Beckman said most plastics today were never designed that way.

The bill passed in the state Senate and now moves to the House for consideration.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.