California to wrap up Exxon plastics probe ‘in weeks’, AG says

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(This April 22 story has been corrected to say that Exxon (NYSE:) has one advanced recycling plant and is assessing opportunities in, not has, around a dozen advanced recycling projects, in paragraph 10)

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – California will conclude a two-year investigation into Exxon and the fossil fuel industry’s role in causing global plastic pollution by summer and decide if it will file a lawsuit against oil giant, its attorney general told Reuters on Monday.

The state launched its investigation into the oil and petrochemical industry’s role in creating and exacerbating the global plastic waste crisis in April 2022 and subpoenaed Exxon for documents.

The plastics investigation mirrored similar actions it has taken on climate change that focused on what the industry knew about the problem for decades and how it misled the public about its role.

“We are soon going to be ready to get to a decision based on all of our investigations in the coming weeks,” Attorney General Rob Bonta told Reuters. “The lies and deceit Exxon used to cover up the truth about the non-recyclability of plastic is well documented.”

Exxon said it does not comment on ongoing investigations. In 2022, the company called the state’s allegations “meritless”and said it was focused on solutions to improve waste management.

Bonta said he had planned to attend the start of negotiations on a global treaty to end plastic pollution, which begins in Ottawa on Tuesday, but had to cancel due to scheduling conflicts.

“In an ideal world we could have made an announcement in Ottawa as part of a discussion of where we go from here, but it didn’t work out,” he said.

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California’s investigation focused on what it had called a “half-century campaign of deception” by fossil fuel companies who perpetuate “myths around recycling.”

Bonta said it had also sought information on Exxon’s more recent promotion of its “advanced recycling” technology, which uses a process called pyrolysis to turn hard-to-recycle plastic into fuel, as its response to the plastic waste crisis. He said the technology’s slow progress was a sign of Exxon’s “ongoing continuation of deception.”

The company currently has one advanced recycling plant and is assessing opportunities in around a dozen advanced recycling projects in the U.S. and abroad. It aims to have the capacity to process 1 billion pounds of plastic waste by year-end 2026.

Exxon signed an agreement in 2021 to collaborate with Plastic Energy on advanced recycling in which Exxon agreed to create high-quality plastic polymers at its facility in France. Last week Exxon announced it would close that facility.

A Reuters investigation found that advanced recycling projects worldwide had been beset by numerous delays and failures even as companies touted its success.