Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Critics push to block Michigan's first 'chemical recycling' facility

aerial photo of the Clean-Seas facility in Newaygo
This Clean-Seas facility in Newaygo is the proposed site of a new chemical recycling operation. (Clean-Seas photo)

LANSING – When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed off on expansive recycling reforms in December 2022, she also approved a last-minute amendment allowing chemical recycling — a process decried by many environmentalists — to be classified as a legal manufacturing process.

Chemical recycling, specifically the commonly used plastic pyrolysis process, turns plastic into fuel.

Hard-to-recycle plastic is shredded, subjected to intensely high heat and pressure, then melted at the molecular level, says Jenny Gitlitz, the director of solutions to plastic pollution at Beyond Plastics. The nationwide project seeks to end plastic pollution and is based at Bennington College in Vermont.


The resulting product can be used to make fuel, more plastic or other chemicals. 

But not without consequences, critics say.

Gitlitz said the process itself creates environmentally harmful waste — greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, among them. 

Michigan is slated to get its own chemical recycling facility soon if legislative roadblocks don’t get in the way.

If the law remains unchanged, Clean-Seas Newaygo, a $20 million advanced recycling facility, will begin operations in Newaygo, according to Clean-Seas.

It’s a partnership between Clean-Seas, a global sustainable energy business, and American Classic, a construction and waste management company with offices in Greenville and Newaygo.

The facility will turn post-industrial and post-consumer waste plastic that would otherwise end up in landfills and incinerators into plastics, fuels, oils and hydrogen, according to Clean-Seas.

Clean-Seas Newaygo would employ up to 60 people and support economic development, advocates say — that is, if a Senate bill doesn’t stop the companies’ plans.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-West Bloomfield, said her bill would remove language in the Michigan Recycling Code that currently allows pyrolysis and gasification. The bill is also sponsored by Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Detroit.

“It just produces nasty stuff,” Bayer said. “It’s actually the grossest thing you’ve ever seen.”

She also said she hopes her bill would stop Clean-Seas Newaygo before it can start operations.

Dan Bates, the CEO of Clean-Seas’ global parent company Clean Vision Corp., said, “We are monitoring the progress of the law but are not commenting on it at this time.”

American Classic did not respond to requests for comment.

Mike Alaimo, the director of environmental and energy affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said Bayer’s bill would ruin the “large significant investments in both infrastructure and labor” that Newaygo’s facility offers.

Allowing chemical recycling is an important step in improving Michigan’s low recycling rate, Alaimo said.

Alaimo called the legislative proposal “disappointing.” 

“We have a lot of goals to drastically increase our recycling rates, and this is how you do it,” Alaimo said. “These materials aren’t capable of being recycled right now with traditional means.”

As for environmental concerns, Alaimo said the facility would still be subject to Michigan’s existing regulations on pollutants. 

He said it would have to follow all the rules and compliance standards of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, the same as any other manufacturing facility.

Bayer’s bill is pending in the Senate Energy and Environment Committee.

The Capital News Service originally published this story

How impactful was this article for you?

Michigan Environment Watch

Michigan Environment Watch examines how public policy, industry, and other factors interact with the state’s trove of natural resources.

Michigan Environment Watch is made possible by generous financial support from:

Our generous Environment Watch underwriters encourage Bridge Michigan readers to also support civic journalism by becoming Bridge members. Please consider joining today.

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now