The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced an investment of up to $14.5 million for research and development to cut waste and reduce the energy used to recycle single-use plastics like plastic bags, wraps, and films. This funding directed toward plastics recycling technologies advances the DOE’s work to address the challenges of plastic waste 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.
“For years, single-use plastics have had a detrimental impact on the environment—clogging landfills and polluting our neighborhoods, parks, and beaches,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “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.”
Single-use plastics are the largest subset of plastics found in landfills and among the most challenging to recycle. Plastic production accounts for more than 3% 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% of plastics are currently recycled, most of which are “downcycled,” or repurposed into low-value products.
Through this funding opportunity, DOE 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,” said 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.”
As part of the application, applicants are required to describe how diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives will be incorporated in the project.
This funding opportunity builds on DOE investments, including the DOE 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, one of the most commonly used plastic packaging materials, developed a new approach to deconstruct single use polyethylene for use in new products, and developed a brand new plastic that can be easily recycled.
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Bioenergy Technologies Office oversee these investments in support of the Biden Administration’s efforts to address the climate emergency. DOE’s Office of Science and Office of Fossil Energy also play key roles in supporting plastic research and development efforts.