February 5, 2023

Volume XIII, Number 36

Error message

  • Warning: Undefined variable $settings in include_once() (line 135 of /var/www/html/docroot/sites/default/settings.php).
  • Warning: Trying to access array offset on value of type null in include_once() (line 135 of /var/www/html/docroot/sites/default/settings.php).
Advertisement

February 03, 2023

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

February 02, 2023

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

GAO Publishes Science & Tech Spotlight on Biorecycling of Plastics

On November 21, 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a Science & Tech Spotlight on biorecycling of plastics. Biological recycling, or biorecycling, is an emerging technology that uses microbes, such as bacteria or fungi, to break down plastic into its basic components for reuse. GAO states that research suggests that biorecycling of plastics could help promote a circular economy in which plastic waste is continuously reincorporated into new products. According to GAO, entities seeking to engage in biorecycling could face a “complicated legal landscape” that may pose a challenge for the emerging technology. At the federal level, depending on the specifics of the process, aspects of biorecycling or the wastes that may result from that process might be governed by statutes such as the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and the Microbial Products of Biotechnology Rule. In addition, states, tribal organizations, municipalities, and other stakeholders, including nonprofit organizations, businesses, and other entities, can also play important roles in regulating or supporting recycling in the United States.

Opportunities from biorecycling of plastics include:

  • Economic, environmental, and health gains. Biorecycling of plastics could help promote a circular economy by turning waste into more useful products while reducing dependence on fossil fuels for new plastics. Emerging recycling methods could help mitigate the negative health effects of incinerating plastic waste; and

  • Processing efficiency. Biorecycling does not require the same level of sorting for plastic waste compared with mechanical recycling, thereby saving time and money. It also consumes less energy than mechanical and some chemical recycling methods.

GAO identified the following challenges:

  • Implementation costs. Recycling plastics is generally more expensive than creating new plastics. Further, companies may face high start-up costs to develop a biorecycling facility;

  • Limited applicability. The enzymes researchers have identified are currently limited to degrading only a few types of plastic; and

  • Knowledge gaps. Research is needed to address the unintended consequences of biorecycling. For example, researchers have not assessed the risks engineered enzymes might pose if released into the environment.

According to GAO, policy context and questions include:

  • What aspects of biorecycling could be prioritized to help reduce the accumulation of plastic waste and its economic and environmental effects?

  • To what extent do current laws and regulations appropriately address concerns regarding the industrial use of engineered enzymes for biorecycling, while still allowing for their development?

  • What steps could the federal government, states, municipalities, and other stakeholders take if they want to support or implement effective policies for biorecycling of plastic waste?

GAO states that it meets Congressional information needs in several ways, including by providing oversight, insight, and foresight on science and technology issues. GAO notes that it also provides targeted assistance on specific science and technology topics to support Congressional oversight activities and provide advice on legislative proposals.

©2023 Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 332
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

About this Author

Lynn Bergeson, Campbell PC, Toxic Substances Control Act Attorney, federal insecticide lawyer, industrial biotechnology legal counsel, Food Drug Administration law
Managing Partner

Lynn L. Bergeson has earned an international reputation for her deep and expansive understanding of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), European Union Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), and especially how these regulatory programs pertain to nanotechnology, industrial biotechnology, synthetic biology, and other emerging transformative technologies. Her knowledge of and involvement in the policy process allows her to develop client-focused strategies whether...

202-557-3801
Carla Hutto, Bergeson Campbell PC environmental law regulatory analyst,Toxic Substances Control Act law attorney
Regulatory Analyst

Since 1996, Carla Hutton has monitored, researched, and written about regulatory and legislative issues that may potentially affect Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) clients. She is responsible for creating a number of monthly and quarterly regulatory updates for B&C's clients, as well as other documents, such as chemical-specific global assessments of regulatory developments and trends. She authors memoranda for B&C clients on regulatory and legislative developments, providing information that is focused, timely and applicable to client...

202-557-3809
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement