Community Opposes PureCycle Plastic Waste Facility in East Winter Garden, Florida, with Support from 50 NGOs

Yesterday, 50 environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from across the U.S. sent a letter to the CEO of PureCycle Technologies, Inc., Dustin Olsen, along with the CEOs of seven PureCycle Partners, requesting that PureCycle respect the serious concerns raised by the Community of East Winter Garden, Florida, and abandon its plans for a plastic waste sorting facility there. East Winter Garden is a historically Black, economically disadvantaged suburban area in Central Florida, located a dozen miles east of Orlando.

East Winter Garden Community and City Say No to PureCycle 

One Winter Garden Bringing Underresourced Community Children into Large Local Gymnastics Center. Photo Credit: One Winter Garden

The East Winter Garden Community and City oppose a plastic waste facility in their neighborhood due to the many direct harms and likely risks created by its construction and operation. The facility would be located in close proximity to children and families, at 851 E. Maple St., just two minutes from Maxey Elementary School, and is adjacent to homes and the City of Winter Garden.The potential consequences of PureCycle’s planned activities and operations include release of toxic chemical and microplastic pollution, noxious odors, noise and light pollution, increased truck and vehicle traffic, emission of climate-warming greenhouse gases, and high risk of fires and explosions. Plastics are not easily contained as they travel to and from, and are processed in, waste facilities like that PureCycle is proposing.

Pure Cycle belongs in a heavy industry area, not on the same street as our community that we are trying so hard to build up. We must also take into consideration our environmental health. We have one of the largest lakes in the state right here, Lake Apopka. We do not need PureCycle’s tainted discharge water polluting our lake. Then there is the noise, the traffic, the foul smells, and the trucks 24 hours a day. It’s not wanted or needed here by the residents.

Jamie Holley, Lifelong East Winter Garden resident and President of Community Advocacy Group, One Winter Garden

Like many other communities of color, East Winter Garden is at greater risk of being targeted by industries for construction of polluting facilities, infrastructure, and activities. As a consequence, people living in communities that face environmental injustice are at higher risk of developing serious, sometimes fatal health problems like cancer.

One Winter Garden at City Hall Working on Redevelopment Planning with City. Photo Credit: One Winter Garden

The community says the company’s initial plan to also include operations for washing and flaking of plastic waste would cause even more significant pollution and strain local freshwater supplies—which are severely precious in Florida and everywhere. Wastewater discharged from PureCycle’s facility would likely contain toxic  PFAS, chemicals linked to a growing number of serious health problems and commonly found in plastic packaging.

Based on peer-reviewed research on recycling facilities, it appears that East Winter Garden residents would also be likely to be exposed to microplastics, which shed from plastic items during sorting and grinding especially when exposed to water and washed. The community has expressed concern that homeowners tied to recycled water systems would risk using polluted water, and that nearby Lake Apopka would likely face increased pollution and algal overgrowth as PureCycle discharges water into the surrounding environment.

“Advanced Recycling”: A Misleading Name and a False Solution

According to PureCycle’s website, from its planned plastic waste sorting (and potentially washing and flaking) facility in East Winter Garden, shredded polypropylene plastic would be shipped to a PureCycle “advanced recycling” facility in Ironton, Ohio. By 2024, it could also potentially be shipped to a similar PureCycle facility in Augusta, Georgia, now planned. At these facilities, the plastic will be reportedly treated with chemicals to convert plastic waste into its basic petrochemical ingredients.

As described by Natural Resources Defense Council, ‘advanced recycling’ like that done by PureCycle Technologies will be a major hazardous waste generator. Solvent-based processes are chemically intensive. Impurities or additives are captured by the solvents and the ‘spent solvents’ themselves require more chemicals to be regenerated or the solvents have to be disposed of.

Jan Dell, Founder of The Last Beach Cleanup

PureCycle claims it has licensed a method from consumer goods multinational Proctor and Gamble—a huge producer of plastic-contained products—that allows for the indefinite recycling of waste polypropylene (number 5) plastic. Assuming this method is similar to other forms of “advanced recycling,” then it similarly has no reliable, scalable, studied track record of doing this. In addition, its website pages and press releases are replete with disclaimers that its messaging “contains forward-looking statements.”Forward-looking statements are made to describe future events or results, typically used by large corporations and industries looking to inform (or entice) investors. They often appear on separate web pages as other business materials, or at the very end of other documents often in smaller or italicized text. For these reasons forward-looking statements are known to often be misleading.

Numerous scientific experts have pointed out how “advanced recycling” is among the most polluting and harmful  false solutions to plastic pollution. “Advanced recycling” has been identified as a greenwashed industry strategy designed to create an illusion of a solution many people are familiar with (traditional, mechanical recycling), often sold along with claims of a “lower carbon footprint” for plastic made by advanced recycling. In reality, it’s an opportunity for the plastic and petrochemical industries to further profit from plastic pollution and the fossil fuel ingredients from which plastics are made. Like other false solutions, “advanced recycling” doesn’t work because it doesn’t address the core cause of plastic pollution—plastic production. 

Community Undeterred by PureCycle’s PR Campaign 

One Winter Garden Group. Photo Credit: One Winter Garden

Despite the community’s opposition to its presence in East Winter Garden and the clear risks of its activities, PureCycle has launched a large, multifaceted campaign to bolster its image.

On the most local level, it maintains it will benefit the community by creating “30-40 well-paid, skilled jobs”—however, other similar projects have shown that even when jobs are created they often do not go to local residents. Additionally, residents have made clear that the potential for jobs does not outweigh the real risks the facility poses to their lives, health, and local environment. 

PureCycle has also donated directly to Millennia Gardens Elementary School in nearby Orlando, through the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools, and hosted a cleanup and beautification day named “Pure Planet Day” for the school. PureCycle is working with Mythbusters alum EXPLR Media to produce video materials and curriculum about advanced recycling for students at Millennia Gardens Elementary School—announced in a press release with a lengthy list of forward-looking statements.

In Florida, PureCycle is targeting endorsements from professional and college sport arenas, including the Jacksonville Jaguars National Football League team. They call their program to collect polypropylene plastic waste from events and venues “PureZero,” and claim it reduces waste, misleadingly eliciting the ethos of zero waste. This illusion is a far cry from the reality of pollution and harm PureCycle could cause.

Despite the community and city expressing its concerns, Orange County officials have been paving the way for PureCycle’s project by favorably zoning a property for the project at 851 E. Maple St., just two minutes from Maxey Elementary School, and is adjacent to homes and the City of Winter Garden. The City of Winter Garden is now legally challenging Orange County’s zoning approval for the recycling facility, which is zoned for light industrial use and not for the intensive and environmentally impactful use of a recycling facility.

Officials of the City of Winter Garden have stated their strong opposition to Pure Cycle.

The City has an obligation to protect our community and our citizens. If a resolution cannot be reached, Winter Garden is prepared to go the distance.

Mayor John Rees, as stated in a press release

50 NGOs Support Community Efforts to Keep PureCycle Out of East Winter Garden

The NGOs signed on to the letter to PureCycle CEO, Dustin Olson, include AZUL, Beyond Plastics, Green Latinos, Greenpeace US, The Last Beach Cleanup, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Sierra Club, Society of Native Nations, and Surfrider Foundation, among others.

PureCycle is not solving the plastic waste problem, it’s continuing the wasteful polluting plastic problem, and promotes the continued production and sales of #5 single-use plastic ‘Frackaging.’

Jackie Nuñez, Founder of The Last Plastic Straw and Advocacy & Engagement Manager of Plastic Pollution Coalition

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