Product, Service & Design Innovation
Dow Pilot Program Shows Plastic Waste Can Be Turned Into Fuel

The Dow Chemical Company recently completed a pilot program aimed at showing how certain plastics such as juice pouches, candy wrappers and plastic dinnerware — which are not easily recyclable under traditional models — can be converted into synthetic crude oil for fuel.

As part of the Energy Bag Pilot Program, Dow partnered with the Flexible Packaging Association, Republic Services, Agilyx, Reynolds Consumer Products and the city of Citrus Heights, Calif. to drive a collection pilot program meant to divert non-recycled plastics from landfills and to optimize their resource efficiency across the lifecycle.

From June to August 2014, Dow says around 26,000 households in Citrus Heights were provided with purple bags — called “Energy Bags” — in which participants were asked to collect plastic items not currently eligible for mechanical recycling, so they could be diverted from the landfill and converted into energy. Collected items included juice pouches, candy wrappers, plastic pet food bags, frozen food bags, laundry pouches and plastic dinnerware.

The purple Energy Bags were collected from homes during the community’s regular bi-weekly recycling program, sorted at the recycling facility and sent to a plastics-to-energy plant. Using their patented thermal pyrolysis technology — which is complementary to current mechanical recycling programs — Agilyx converted the previously non-recycled plastics into high-value synthetic crude oil. The crude oil can be further refined and made into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil or lubricants, and can also be transformed back into plastic.

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Dow says the results of the pilot show the potential for long-term environmental benefits, including less landfill trash, more local energy resources and less fossil fuel energy dependence. During the three-month program, there were six collection cycles resulting in nearly 8,000 purple Energy Bags collected, about 6,000 pounds of items diverted from landfills and 512 gallons of synthetic crude oil produced from the conversion.

There are currently four commissioned commercial-scale pyrolysis plants operating in the U.S. with more planned. There are also numerous plants outside the U.S.

In related news, Dow recently came together with Nestlé UK, Unilever and several other firms for a new project aimed at improving the recyclability of flexible packaging products, in the hope of pushing the resource industry closer towards a circular economic approach.

Similarly, Dow last year launched a campaign called Recycle Rally — A 30-Day Recycling Challenge, to inspire people to cultivate daily recycling behaviors. The interactive campaign was based on the idea that it takes people 30 days to form a habit, and challenged users to make recycling part of their everyday routine, while offering information, tools and tips to help people become better recyclers.

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