Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, speaks in favor of House Bill 143 on Friday. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, speaks in favor of House Bill 143 on Friday. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska House approves relaxed environmental rules for ‘advanced recycling’

Applies to facilities using high heat or chemicals to turn plastic garbage into raw materials.

The Alaska House of Representatives voted on Friday to relax environmental rules on advanced recycling facilities that use high heat or chemicals to turn plastic garbage into raw materials for new plastic products.

The 23-13 vote sends House Bill 143 to the Alaska Senate for further consideration.

Rep. Tom McKay, R-Anchorage and the bill’s prime sponsor, said the bill would keep plastic out of state landfills.

“​​Advanced recycling is the key to ending plastic waste and keeping plastic out of the environment,” McKay said.

The legislation was supported by the American Chemistry Council, a trade group representing plastics manufacturers. Fewer than 10% of plastic products worldwide are recycled into new products, and advanced facilities are intended to increase that proportion, but environmentalists are concerned about the byproducts of advanced recycling — chemical pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and leftover waste.

For the moment, those issues are hypothetical: Alaska doesn’t have any advanced recycling plants, and none are being publicly planned.

Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, said the end result of the bill is to “reduce some regulatory framework on facilities we don’t have.”

“Even if this bill passes today … we may never get one of these facilities in the state,” he said.

By March 2023, 22 other states had enacted council-backed legislation on advanced recycling centers, the Alaska Chamber of Commerce said in a letter supporting the bill.

Virginia passed an advanced recycling bill in 2021 as part of a compromise that saw environmentalists successfully ban foam food containers. Missouri passed an advanced recycling bill in 2022, and Indiana became the 24th state to pass a council-backed bill when it did so last year.

Some legislators, including Rep. Donna Mears, D-Anchorage, were skeptical of supporters’ claims.

“This bill might be good for the American Chemistry Council, but it’s bad for Alaska,” she said.

Mears, an environmental engineer when working outside the Legislature, served for years in Anchorage as an expert on recycling.

Before the bill’s final passage, she unsuccessfully attempted to amend it, and when those amendments failed, urged legislators to vote against it. She noted that the bill will classify advanced recycling plants as manufacturers, not waste facilities, meaning that they will be subject to lower environmental standards.

Last week, Maine voted to move in the opposite direction of Alaska’s bill when legislators there decided to regulate advanced recycling facilities under the same rules as solid waste. Those facilities will also be required to post a bond to pay for any long-term cleanup costs.

Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage and another opponent, said advanced recycling facilities use “a massive amount of energy,” and that amid an energy crunch in Southcentral Alaska, “there’s a lot of smarter policies that we could pursue.”

The final vote was largely along caucus lines, with 22 members of the House Majority voting in favor, plus Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, a member of the minority caucus. Voting against the bill were 12 members of the House Minority and Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, who is not a member of a caucus.

Reps. Jennie Armstrong, D-Anchorage, and Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage, were excused and did not vote. Reps. Alyse Galvin, I-Anchorage, and Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, were absent.

• James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 8

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, April 12, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, April 11, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The sky and mountains are reflected in the water on April 5, 2012, at the Kootznoowoo Wilderness in the Tongass National Forest’s Admiralty Island National Monument. Conservation organizations bought some private land and transferred it to the U.S. Forest Service, resulting in an incremental expansion of the Kootznoowoo Wilderness and protection of habitat important to salmon and wildlife. (Photo by Don MacDougall/U.S. Forest Service)
Conservation groups’ purchase preserves additional land in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

A designated wilderness area in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest… Continue reading

A welcome sign is shown Sept. 22, 2021, in Tok. President Joe Biden won Alaska’s nominating contest on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Biden wins more delegates in Alaska and Wyoming as he heads toward Democratic nomination

President Joe Biden nudged further ahead in the Democratic nomination for reelection… Continue reading

Juneau Assembly members and other visitors examine a meeting room formerly used by the nine-member Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development on Monday, April 8, which is about 25% larger than the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Of three possible new City Hall buildings, one stands out — but plenty of proposed uses for other two

Michael J. Burns Building eyed as city HQ; childcare, animal shelter among options at school sites.

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, speaks to members of the Senate majority caucus’ leadership group on Friday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Schools, university and projects across Alaska are set to receive money from new budget bill

Alaska Senate sends draft capital budget to House as work continues on a state spending plan

The Boney Courthouse in downtown Anchorage, across the street from the larger Nesbett Courthouse, holds the Alaska Supreme Court chambers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska judge strikes down state’s cash payments to families using correspondence school programs

Decision will become a ‘hot-button legislative item’ in final weeks of session, lawmakers say.

A statue of William Henry Seward stands outside the Dimond Courthouse in downtown Juneau. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Juneau man convicted of sexual abuse of 15-year-old girl more than four years after incidents occur

JPD: Randy James Willard, 39, sent explicit videos to and engaged in sexual contact with victim.

Most Read