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Houston Chronicle: Chemical makers launch projects to tackle plastic waste

Atlanta-based Nexus Fuels is turning hard to recycle plastic waste into liquid feedstock for Royal Dutch Shell to manufacture new plastics.

The world’s rapidly mounting plastic waste and the public reaction to its impact on marine and wildlife is challenging the booming petrochemical industry, but the world’s biggest energy companies are increasingly stepping up with new projects to take on these challenges.

Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Houston’s LyondellBasell have all announced new projects or pilot plants in recent weeks to address recycling plastics that are the hardest to transform back into reusable materials. The latest came from Shell, which has begun making petrochemicals from plastic waste in a process known as chemical recycling.

The Anglo-Dutch energy giant is partnering with Atlanta-based Nexus Fuels to break down hard-to-recycle plastics into a liquid feedstock and then manufacture new high-end petrochemical products. The first feedstock was recently delivered from Nexus to Shell’s chemicals plant in Norco, La. outside of New Orleans.

“We can’t always control what people do with plastics at the end of their lifetimes, but we are committed to playing our role,” said Thomas Casparie, Shell executive vice president of global chemicals.

Shell has partnered with technology companies that specialize in types of chemical recycling. The goal is to create a circular system in which plastics can be recycled again and again. Most traditional mechanical recycling is limited because the plastics can only be recycled so many times after they they’re chopped up, melted and shaped back into plastic granules.

“Every time you do it you degrade the quality of the plastics, and you can only do it so much,” Casparie said.

Shell said its goal is to recycle 1 million metric tons of plastic waste a year in its chemical plants by 2025. Casparie said that once enough chemical recycling plants are built, they will create a market for waste plastics that will help keep them out of the environment.

“It is both good for the environment and for our business,” he said. “You’re creating a demand for plastic waste, and you’re creating more incentives to recycle.”

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