Plastic recycling continues to grow year after year, but despite many efforts to increase overall recycling in the country, over half of our municipal solid waste ends up in landfills.
This reveals an opportunity to improve resource management and end-of-life options. For plastics specifically, it is possible to increase recycling rates and convert non-recycled
plastics into energy and other valuable products. By integrating plastics recycling with plastics-to-energy programs, we can divert more plastics from landfills and make the most of our resources.
The Dow Chemical Company’s Energy Bag Program set out to do just that. The three-month pilot was designed to collect plastics not currently accepted by existing curbside recycling programs and convert those plastics into synthetic crude oil using pyrolysis (a process that heats the plastics without oxygen to convert them into a gas state, then cools and condenses the gases into products such as crude oil). Program partners included Republic Services, Agilyx, the Flexible Packaging Association and the city of Citrus Heights, California.
The Energy Bag Program sought to answer five specific questions:
- Will people participate?
- Will people follow the provided instructions and place the recommended non-recycled plastics (NRP) inside the Energy Bag?
- Can the NRP be effectively collected using the existing curbside recycling infrastructure?
- Can the NRP be effectively sorted at the recycling facility?
- Is the NRP collected suitable for pyrolysis?
The program used existing infrastructure to make it easy for residents and collection companies to participate. Nearly 26,000 residents of single-family households serviced by Republic Services in Citrus Heights, CA, were asked to place non-recycled plastic packaging and other plastic items not included in the city’s existing curbside recycling program into the provided bright purple Energy Bags. These plastics included items such as juice pouches, snack wrappers and cheese packages.
Once the bags were full, residents placed the purple bags into their recycling bins. The content of the recycling bins was collected and transported to Republic’s Newby Island Resource Recovery Park Recyclery. The purple bags were manually separated from the rest of the recyclables at the front end of the recycling line, and a random sample of their contents was characterized. Finally, the collected Energy Bags were bundled into an “Energy Bale” for shipment to Agilyx’s Tigard-based plastics-to-oil facility, where the non-recycled plastics were converted into synthetic fuel oil using pyrolysis technology.
Initial Results of the Energy Bag Program
During the three-month program, there were six collection cycles resulting in:
- Nearly 8,000 purple Energy Bags collected
- Approximately 6,000 pounds of typically non-recycled items diverted from landfills
- 512 gallons of synthetic crude oil produced from the conversion
- 30 percent citizen participation at some point during the pilot
- 78 percent of citizens said they would be likely to participate if given another chance
As you can see, initial results of the program were extremely positive. Residents who participated in the pilot program placed the requested materials in the Energy Bags, and felt good about reducing their landfill waste. Their participation also helped reinforce which types of plastics can and should be recycled in Citrus Heights. (You can read full results on Dow’s website.)
Since the program launched, additional communities have expressed interest in starting their own pilot programs. Additionally, other companies have expressed interest in program partnerships. By conducting pilot programs and continuing to educate consumers about the energy potential non-recycled plastics hold, we could help increase landfill diversion of valuable materials and change the way we think about waste.
The Future of Recovering Non-Recycled Plastics for Energy
As with any resource management program, collaboration is key. Dow was fortunate to have valuable partners in the City of Citrus Heights, Republic Services, the Flexible Packaging Association and Agilyx, which were all committed to the pilot’s success.
However, this was just one pilot. We would like to see this type of program expand to communities across the country. To do that, we need everyone from communities, material suppliers, manufacturers, brand owners, retailers, the waste and recycling industry and non-governmental organizations to play a part.
Together, we can educate policy makers and the public about this untapped opportunity to divert valuable resources from landfills.
For more information about the Energy Bag Pilot Program or to learn how to bring the program to a community near you, view the full report on Dow’s website or contact Erica Ocampo of The Dow Chemical Company at email@example.com.