Students work to halt construction of recycling plant along Susquehanna River

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Sienna Williams / The Bucknellian

Kelsey Werkheiser, News Co-Editor

Students may have seen lawn signs around Lewisburg that read “Stop Encina” this past week.

Encina is a company focused on constructing recycling plastics, as stated on their website, in order to “catalyze the transition to a sustainable, circular economy,” and create “a future in which nothing is wasted.”

This sounds like it should be positive, but a group of Bucknell environmental students argue otherwise.

Encina intends to invest $1.1 billion into a facility located in Point Township, putting it within a 15 minute drive from Bucknell’s campus. It will be located near the Susquehanna River, which is one of the main concerns about the plant. 

Jack Quinn ’23, Hannah Holmes ’23, Delaney Oak ’23 and Phoebe Blumberg ’23 spoke to The Bucknellian about the work they’ve done as a student group to work against Encina’s plan. The students are a part of a larger activist group called “Save Our Susquehanna” that’s working to halt Encina’s plans.

Encina recently met with the engineering department in order to discuss their plans because of the facility’s proximity to campus. Oak said she assumed this was to get Bucknell on the side of the company’s plan to counteract pushback from the public.

“They didn’t want students attending… they didn’t kick us out, but we did show up completely unwelcome,” Oak said. “I think that they really thought that the professors were going to be on their side, but [Encina wasn’t] very prepared from an engineering or science standpoint.”

“It seemed very much like the professors all took the side against it,” Holmes said. “I don’t think a single professor voiced anything in favor.”

Some of the concerns surrounding the plant are common for recycling plants, such as the use of chemicals that can drastically affect water sources.

“One thing we’re especially worried about is an incident similar to what happened in East Palestine, Ohio, happening along the Susquehanna river,” Blumberg said. “[Encina’s] plan is to carry toxic chemicals along the railway along the Susquehanna River, and if there were to be a spill or a derailment, that would all go directly into the Susquehanna… Bucknell isn’t safe from that.”

“They hope to begin construction at the end of 2023 and into 2024,” Blumberg continued. “They hope to begin the first stage of their actual operations by 2025 to bring in 450 tons of plastic waste a year… and in 2026 they want to be in the second half of their operation, which is to heat that plastic and turn it into chemical feedstock and ship it out to manufacturers.” 

Quinn told The Bucknellian about how the group had been speaking to residents this semester, and many have expressed concerns that the area could become another Cancer Alley, a stretch of the Mississippi River that has become permanently damaged by chemical spills into the water.

Sheida Sahandy, Chief Sustainability Officer of Encina said the company is taking a number of precautions to protect the river.

“Our system is expected to filter and remove materials as small as bacteria. By many measures, we will be returning the water back to the river at a higher level of quality than when it was removed,” Sahandy said. “The Susquehanna River is a cherished source for recreation, tourism and the health of the area’s ecosystem and environment. Our goal is to ensure it remains such for years to come.”

There are also concerns that this facility could set the precedent for this area of Pennsylvania to become an industrial area. 

“They supposedly have a facility in San Antonio, and residents have been asking over and over again where it is,” Quinn said. “They said that they’ve tested the facility and the practices, but they won’t provide an address.”

“We don’t have exact statistics or numbers, but there are definitely going to be some form of emissions coming from this building,” Oak said. “If there’s emissions in the area, it can have an effect on the health of students and faculty in the long run.”

Because the plant is not Lewisburg, the group has instead been canvasing within Point Township where its effects will be more prevalent. Blumberg mentioned that she was surprised at the lack of knowledge that residents had about a factory being built so nearby. 

“We believe that that was very intentional,” Blumberg said. “There isn’t much research about what they’re doing and their technology is very unproven. There’s a lot of older residents in the area without internet or cell phone access, and we were the ones telling them about [Encina’s plans].”

The group is thankful to already have some victories in their fight, especially in such a short amount of time. Encina had pushed to exceed the height limitations of their facility, but the permit to do so was denied.

The Save Our Susquehanna group currently has an online petition that has accumulated more than 1,000 signatures, and the students interviewed for this article encourage others to look into it, even if purely to learn more about the situation.

Quinn expressed that the coalition is in need of volunteers, especially as members such as themselves graduate and aren’t able to be as involved.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that we’re Environmental Studies students, and we believe in recycling. So if we believed that this was something that would have a positive effect on the environment, then we would be all for it,” Blumberg said.

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