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DEC announces $4.5M for new center at University at Buffalo to focus on plastics recycling

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced $4.5 million is being awarded to the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo to create a new Center for Plastic Recycling Research and Innovation and support crucial work to reduce plastic waste. This expanded academic partnership will improve plastics recycling by researching the development of secondary recyclable markets to ease the financial burdens on municipal recycling programs and streamline the recycling process, especially with certain types of lower-grade plastics. 

“The reduction of plastics and other waste is critical to creating a cleaner environment and achieving the goals of the New York’s ambitious Climate Act,” Commissioner Seggos said. “This State-funded investment will empower one of New York’s premier research universities, with their team of faculty and students, to advance creative solutions to bolster the State’s world-recognized authority in plastics recycling research and innovation.” 

The creation of the New York State Center for Plastic Recycling Research and Innovation expands upon an existing State-funded academic partnership with the University at Buffalo to conduct plastics recycling research focused on improving source separation quality and marketability. Supported by the State’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) this additional $4.5 million announced today will help address a range of contemporary issues related to plastics recycling with the goal of furthering plastics recycling in New York and beyond. 

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“The University at Buffalo is committed to addressing regional as well as global environmental challenges through multidisciplinary scholarship and innovation,” said Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.“By working with partners such as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, we will advance the science and technology of plastics recycling while increasing our impact in promoting a healthier and more equitable environment in New York State and beyond.” 

“Prudent investments such as this from DEC will ensure that New York State plays a leadership role to develop innovative strategies for plastics recycling and help make recycling initiatives more effective,” said the project’s principal investigator and the center director, Amit Goyal, SUNY Distinguished Professor in UB’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “We are very grateful to DEC staff, Commissioner Seggos, and Governor Hochul’s office for their leadership and partnership with academia to enable a cleaner, greener Empire State for all. UB’s team is uniquely positioned to develop innovative solutions for the plastics recycling. We are excited to expand on our current project with DEC on assessing and improving plastic recycling as well as developing outreach and educational programs. We look forward to embarking on this new initiative on plastics recycling and innovation.” 

A multidisciplinary team will conduct the Center’s work by integrating social sciences, economics, communication, engineering, plastics (polymers) and materials science. The Center will engage university professors, senior scientists, and other researchers, recycling industry experts, and DEC staff and focus on several tasks: 

  • Mapping the reverse supply for plastics in New York State and deep dive into the structure of the collection, disposal, and recycling industries;
  • Improving the efficiency of businesses involved in collecting and processing plastics in New York State;
  • Plastics in natural environments, including microplastics;
  • Plastics in New York State agriculture/food and medical industries;
  • Further understanding contemporary attitudes toward current recycling behaviors; and
  • Advanced high-speed plastic sorting by molecular contract infrared imaging; and
  • Fund several academic- and community-based projects.

The funding for the Center comes from the EPF. Among the many environmental victories in the 2022-23 State Budget, Governor Hochul succeeded in enacting an increase in the EPF from $300 to $400 million, the highest-ever level of funding in the program’s history. The EPF supports climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, improves agricultural resources to promote sustainable agriculture, protects our water sources, advances conservation efforts, and provides recreational opportunities for New Yorkers.  

The Commissioner held the announcement in advance of the New York State Climate Action Council’s public hearing on the draft scoping plan today at 3:30 p.m. at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library in the Damon Auditorium. For more information, go online here.   

Today’s announcement builds upon the State’s comprehensive waste management efforts to address the impacts of New York’s solid waste on climate change and the current burden on municipalities by reducing the amount of materials sent to landfills and combustors and significantly increasing waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. 

The most recent measures include newly adopted regulations to reduce electronic waste and the use of polystyrene foam. New York State also continues to engage in a range of partnerships with academic institutions to advance waste management efforts to benefit communities, the environment, and fight climate change, including close partnerships with State University of New York (SUNY) to help develop strategies to advance more sustainable material management practices. DEC has committed more than $20 million in funding for work to make New York more resilient to future market disruptions with UB, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, Stony Brook University, and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.  Additional information about these efforts and DEC’s ongoing waste reduction education efforts can be found online here.