INTERVIEW: Houston Recycling Collaboration aims to boost availability of plastic waste feedstock - LyondellBasell

Author: Joseph Chang


NEW YORK (ICIS)--Four companies and the city of Houston, Texas, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to form the Houston Recycling Collaboration (HRC) in an effort to significantly increase the city’s recycling rate and boost the amount of plastic waste feedstock available to make recycled plastics, an executive from LyondellBasell said on Tuesday.

The MoU was signed on 19 January between the city of Houston, ExxonMobil, LyondellBasell, Cyclyx International and FCC Environmental Services. The HRC aims to establish Houston as a leader in both mechanical and chemical recycling.

“The goal of the MoU really is to enhance and increase the amount of recycling of plastic waste in the city,” said Palmer Giddings, vice president/GM of Polyolefins and Circularity Americas at LyondellBasell, in an interview with ICIS.

“With ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell being based [in Houston], we can certainly catalyse the number of employees we have here and try to get more [material] for both mechanical and advanced recycling opportunities kicked off,” he added.

Chemical recycling of plastic waste is often referred to by companies as “advanced” or “molecular” recycling.

ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell have around 16,000 employees in Houston who can support the recycling efforts, the executive pointed out.

“The Houston Recycling Collaboration aligns perfectly with our Climate Action Plan, which calls to reduce waste and develop a circular economy,” said Houston mayor Sylvester Turner.

“By bringing the community together with waste management, recycling and chemical companies, we aim to significantly increase recycling rates, lower carbon emissions and create an innovative circular model to address the challenge of plastic waste recycling,” he added.

A team of members from each of the five parties to the MoU are now working on a charter and project list, governance, scope and deliverables. A charter could be completed by the end of February and a list of projects by the end of Q1, Giddings noted.

More plastic waste diverted from landfills and waterways into the recycling stream would offer feedstock for mechanical and chemical recycling being built in the area.

ExxonMobil announced in October 2021 plans to build its first large-scale plastic waste chemical recycling facility in Baytown, Texas. The facility with an initial planned capacity to recycle 30,000 tonnes/year of plastic waste is expected to start up by the end of 2022.

Cyclyx in December announced plans to build a plastic recovery facility with waste plastics processing capacity of 60,000 tonnes/year on the US Gulf Coast for committed offtake from chemical recycling projects such as ExxonMobil’s Baytown project. The plant is expected to start up in late 2022.

FCC Environmental Services operates a relatively new material recovery facility (MRF) in Houston designed to process 120,000 tonnes/year of overall recyclable waste with a maximum capacity of 145,000 tonnes/year. It has a contract with the city of Houston to recycle consumer waste.

There is growing interest in building plastics recycling assets on the US Gulf Coast - the hub of the US petrochemicals industry.

Honeywell and Avangard Innovative in January announced plans to create a joint venture to build a chemical recycling plant in Waller, Texas, to process 30,000 tonnes/year of plastic waste into Honeywell Recycled Polymer Feedstock, with production expected in 2023.

Key to the HRC’s success will be to increase recycling rates of hard-to-recycle plastics such as low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), Giddings from LyondellBasell pointed out.

While planning is in the early stages, one proposal could involve including allowing a broader stream of plastic waste into recycling collection bins that are not easily mechanically recycled such as plastic bags, food packaging and films.

This could also involve bag-collection programmes which have been successful in other cities, he noted.

“We could envision a way to get those types of materials into a recycling stream for advanced recycling rather than a landfill,” said Giddings.

“Those could easily at some point flow into a plastics recycling facility which then could produce a pyrolysis feedstock for the cracker,” he added.

Another concept being explored is takeback programmes that could increase the amount of recycled material from apartment buildings.

“Specific initiatives will be developed by the working team and may include expanding recycling facilities, supporting consumer education and reimagining current recycling programmes. A takeback programme may be one option the working team will explore,” said Giddings.

“This idea could come in many forms, including working with apartment and multifamily dwellings to establish an onsite recycling area, or another option could be collaborating with local retail stores to accept plastic waste to be recycled,” he added.

Right now, the city of Houston picks up waste in recycling bins from single-family residences only.

Along with making recycling more accessible, educating residents and changing behaviours will likely also be part of the plan.

“We want to see less plastics ending up in our landfills and thus missing the recycle stream altogether. We hope to improve plastics recycling education in a real, tangible way so that people are making the best decisions when disposing of their plastics,” said Brent Taylor, deputy press secretary for the Mayor’s Office.

The idea for the HRC was hatched by former LyondellBasell CEO Bob Patel and ExxonMobil senior vice president Loic Vivier on the sidelines of a meeting in Houston, where they sought to involve Houston’s mayor Sylvester Turner in the recycling collaboration, said Giddings.

“We believe recycling is critical for our future - it’s an important part of our business plan - and so it’s important to get recycling increasing faster, and one of the ways to do that is increase what actually goes ‘into the bin’,” said Giddings.

“With the combination of ourselves, Exxon and then bringing Cyclyx technology to the forefront, we can actually catalyse [a greater] amount of recycled products that enters back into the city’s markets,” he added.

ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell are both founding members of the Cyclyx consortium established by chemical recycling technology firm Agilyx. Cyclyx aims to increase the recycling rate of plastics from 10% to 90% by working with partners to create a new supply chain. Dow joined Cyclyx in January 2022.

Additional reporting by Emily Friedman and Jonathan Lopez

Interview article by Joseph Chang

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