Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap and Request for Information

In January, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released the Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap and a Request for Information (RFI) seeking stakeholder input on the Draft Roadmap. Announced in November 2019, the Plastics Innovation Challenge is a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations in energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies. The Plastics Innovation Challenge will also position the United States as a global leader in design and implementation of advanced plastics recycling technologies and in the manufacture of new plastics that are recyclable by design.

“The Plastics Innovation Challenge leverages the extensive expertise and capabilities of the Department of Energy and our National Labs to think beyond the status quo and make a real impact in addressing our plastic waste issues,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “Our stakeholders are an essential source of valuable direction, and we ask for their feedback as we pursue solutions for issues that affect us all.”

The Plastics Innovation Challenge aims to make domestic processing of plastic waste economically viable and energy efficient, develop new and improved plastic materials lacking the same end-of-life concerns as incumbent materials, and ultimately reduce plastic waste accumulation. Four strategic goals define the scope of the Plastics Innovation Challenge:

  1. Deconstruction: Develop biological and chemical methods for deconstructing plastic wastes into useful chemicals.
  2. Upcycling: Develop technologies to upcycle waste chemical streams into higher-value products, encouraging increased recycling.
  3. Recycle by Design: Design new, renewable plastics and bioplastics that have the properties of today’s plastics, are easily upcycled, and can be manufactured at scale domestically.
  4. Scale and Deploy: Support an energy- and material-efficient domestic plastics supply chain by helping companies scale and deploy new technologies in domestic and global markets, while improving existing recycling technologies such as collection, sorting, and mechanical recycling.

The Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap identifies key research needs and opportunities for DOE-sponsored research and development. The Draft Roadmap identifies challenges and opportunities across thermal, chemical, biological, and physical recycling and upcycling methods, as well as material design strategies for recyclability. Additionally, the Draft Roadmap:

  • Provides an overview of the plastic waste problem, including the limits of current recycling technologies;
  • Identifies the initiative’s 2030 vision, mission, strategic goals, and objectives;
  • Details challenges and opportunities identified by previous DOE activities and workshops;
  • Lays out key research directions;
  • Delivers an outline of current DOE activities, capabilities, and coordination; and
  • Describes potential near-, medium-, and long-term targets for each research area.

The Draft Roadmap also serves as a unifying document, providing structure and aligning activities across the DOE offices involved in this effort, including the Offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Science, and Fossil Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). This roadmap will guide DOE efforts to meet the Plastics Innovation Challenge 2030 goals by providing alignment within DOE, a framework to focus on select strategies for managing plastic waste, and research directions at every level of technical maturity.

In addition to the Draft Roadmap, DOE also released an associated RFI. The purpose of this RFI is to solicit feedback from stakeholders to ensure the Plastics Innovation Challenge is optimally positioned to address opportunities and challenges for the discovery, development, and deployment of technologies for plastic waste management and reduction. Responses to the RFI are due March 1, 2021.

The complete RFI document can be found on EERE Exchange.

Download the Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap below:PDF iconPlastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap

Webinar series: Building Sustainable Futures: Global Challenges and Possibilities

Northwestern Buffett’s “Building Sustainable Futures: Global Challenges and Possibilities” webinar series spotlights current events and efforts to reach United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), with a focus on a different UN SDG each quarter.

Find recordings from past events and links for upcoming webcasts here.

Shark Populations Are Crashing, With a ‘Very Small Window’ to Avert Disaster

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Oceanic sharks and rays have declined more than 70 percent since 1970, mainly because of overfishing, according to a new study.

Changes on the Horizon for Toxic Substance Control Regulation

Read the full post at JD Supra.

The year ahead promises to be a busy one for regulation of new and existing chemicals under the 2016 reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA gives EPA expanded authority to regulate both new and existing chemicals, as the agency must make findings on the risks presented by new chemicals, as well as review all active existing chemicals to identify “high priority” chemicals that must undergo risk evaluations and risk management plans as needed. The law applies broadly to any “person” who manufactures, processes, distributes in commerce, uses, or disposes of a chemical substance, including companies that have manufactured chemical products or importing retailers, regardless of industry sector.

These entities are subject to TSCA requirements and should be aware of the business and legal implications, including upcoming chemical data reporting, evolving rules on risk evaluations and management, changes in fees, and rising enforcement penalties. A number of TSCA regulations are on the Biden Administration’s list of agency actions slated for review, consistent with an Executive Order. This alert provides a summary of these recent TSCA developments and expected changes in the new year for the regulated community.

New Administration Focus on Environmental Issues Signals More Changes Ahead in Auto Industry

Read the full post at JD Supra.

The auto industry has been planning for the impact on a change in administration on many fronts.  As previously discussed, the new administration has a strong focus on environmental policy, and is expected to make sweeping changes.  What is potentially in store for the auto industry?  The first few days in office provide clues to what will be coming.

Recycling in America Is a Mess. A New Bill Could Clean It Up.

Read the full story in the New York Times.

As programs shutter and plastic use rises in the pandemic, a New York bill to get manufacturers to pick up the recycling tab could offer a solution.

Skokie to implement new smart technology in effort to minimize water main leakages

Read the full story in the Skokie Review.

Skokie is implementing new “smart water technology” that could save the village millions of gallons of water and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually through continuous monitoring of water main leaks.

Banks Called Out For Their Role In Financing Plastic Pollution

Read the full story in Forbes.

A new report, Bankrolling Plastics, says that banks are in part responsible for the plastic pollution crisis, because they are “lending vast sums of capital without making any effort to address the plastic pollution crisis. “By indiscriminately funding actors in the plastics supply chain, banks have failed to acknowledge their role in enabling global plastic pollution. They are not introducing any due diligence systems, contingent loan criteria, or financing exclusions when it comes to the plastics industry.”

Online shopping has shifted recycling responsibilities to consumers

Read the full story at The Verge.

The fate of cardboard boxes in the US rests in the hands of consumers more than it ever has been before. In the past, brick-and-mortar retailers handled much of the leftover packaging from shipments. Malls and grocery stores usually send big bales of used but relatively clean cardboard to recycling programs so that they can be made into new boxes. Now, the rise of e-commerce, which started before the pandemic, has shifted more responsibility onto shoppers to properly dispose of boxes so that they can be recycled. Boxes are piling up on residential curbsides instead of at retail stores.

Packaging, PPE and surgical supplies: How COVID-19 is pushing hospitals to reduce waste

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

Some waste is inevitable, but supply chain leaders are finding ways to reduce quantities, reusing and recycling when possible, and adjusting procurement and packaging.