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Ky. bill encourages growth of plastics recycling industry

Shamrock Technologies is a plastics recycler in Henderson, Kentucky, that has been linked to widespread environmental pollution.

Environmentalists and manufacturers are throwing their support behind a bill that would change how some plastics recyclers are regulated, and possibly grow the industry.

Most of the plastics used today end up in the landfill, or in the environment. House Bill 45 would benefit companies that break down recycled plastics into raw materials for use in new products.

Rep. Adam Bowling, a Republican from Middlesboro and the bill’s sponsor, said it would redefine so-called “advanced recycling facilities” under the law, regulating them as manufacturers instead of waste disposal facilities. 

“It could help spur economic growth while at the same time helping to reduce plastic waste, a win-win opportunity we don’t often see,” Bowling said. 

Bowling said similar legislation in Tennessee led to growth of the industry in that state and estimated it could bring as many as eight facilities and $78 million in annual economic impact to Kentucky.  

The measure has been endorsed by both Kentucky’s Association of Manufacturers and the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental watchdog. It passed unanimously out of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee and can now get a vote in the full House.

Tom FitzGerald, an environmental attorney with the Kentucky Resources Council, said only about 9% of all plastics are recycled, and this measure would help to prevent them from ending up in a landfill or an ocean. 

“It opens the potential avenue for further utilization of waste plastics that are now just being landfilled or otherwise disposed of,” he said.

FitzGerald worked with the bill sponsor to add language ensuring the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet would retain its authority to manage adverse impacts.

Plastics recyclers sometimes deal with dangerous chemicals that can lead to public health hazards if improperly handled.

Shamrock Technologies, a recycling facility in Henderson, has polluted the western Kentucky community with forever chemicals — a class of compounds that have been linked to an array of health problems including cancer, and take an extremely long time to break down in nature. 

Shamrock recycles Teflon products to make micronized inks and powders. The company is currently under an agreed order with the environment cabinet to find the extent of the pollution and clean it up. 


Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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