Beyond Recycling: Recovering the Energy in Non-Recycled Plastics

A new study conducted by the Earth Engineering Center of Columbia University highlights the tremendous potential of waste as an energy resource in the U.S.

by Chad vanderVeen / July 9, 2014

A new study conducted by the Earth Engineering Center (EEC) of Columbia University and sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) highlights the tremendous potential of waste as an energy resource in the U.S. and outlines the many ways that these technologies can convert waste into energy and fuel, divert solid waste from landfills, and even reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest EEC study found that:

-- If we had the capacity to divert all of the solid waste that was landfilled in 2011 to waste-to-energy facilities, we could generate enough electricity to supply about 13.8 million households, or 12 percent of the entire United States.

-- If just the non-recycled plastics in solid waste were to be source-separated and converted through today’s plastics-to-oil technologies into fuel oil, they could produce 135 million barrels of oil per year – or 5.7 billion gallons of gasoline, enough to fuel 8.9 million cars.

-- If we could convert our non-recycled waste to alternative energy instead of landfilling it, we could preserve more than 6,000 acres of open space every year that would otherwise be used to store garbage.

EEC’s new report found that our everyday trash is an abundant, domestic energy resource, and that using today’s technologies to unlock that energy could also bring about environmental benefits, such as lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and making better use of energy than burying it in a landfill. 

States can help ensure that we’re tapping into the energy value of our waste by making sure that our regulations are broadened to include energy derived from waste toward landfill diversion goals and simplifying state permitting processes.

ACC also produced this short video on recovering energy in plastic. Check it out.

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