America’s Plastics Makers™ are committed to finding viable solutions for repurposing non-recycled used plastics. These valuable resources do not belong in landfills or, worse, our oceans. While traditional recycling is a great option for many plastics, it has its limitations.

Working with scientists, engineers, businesses, policy makers, and others, we continue to research emerging technologies that turn non-recycled plastics into new products such as chemicals and fuels. These technologies hold enormous potential—and the research is promising.

New Study

In 2018, a new study that looked at gasification—one of many technologies that provides an alternative to landfilling non-recycled municipal solid waste (MSW)—found that adding non-recycled plastics to gasification feedstock increased the amount of saleable commodity product produced with minimal increase to energy input. The commodity products include chemicals such as methanol, transportation fuels such as ethanol, and other useful products that help offset the use of petroleum for fuel and manufacturing, keep plastics out of landfill, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The study was conducted by the Earth Engineering Center at The City College of New York (CCNY) with the City of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, at their Edmonton Waste Management Centre, and with Enerkem, a Montreal-based energy company. Edmonton and Enerkem have commercialized a gasification system that processes non-recycled MSW into methanol and ethanol.

The study found that using a gasification feedstock of 50% biomass and 50% non-recycled plastic, compared to a feedstock of 100% biomass, resulted in:

  • up to 42% more methanol production
  • up to 28% improvement in thermal efficiency
  • up to 80% increase in syngas energy (the product converted into methanol) and only a 2% increase in energy inputs
  • net displacement of as much as 21,000 tons of greenhouse gases
  • decreased waste byproduct to landfill by up to 76%

These kinds of 21st century conversion technologies will help move us toward chemical recycling and a more circular economy.

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