Changing the way we think about waste in the US and finding new and better end-of-life options for plastic packaging is what we set out to do with our Energy Bag Pilot Program. Through a collaborative effort, the pilot demonstrated that when it comes to reducing plastic waste, there are opportunities to convert non-recycled waste into energy in a way that is complementary to mechanical recycling.
The Energy Bag Pilot Program was designed to show how we could capture the value of previously non-recycled plastics that would otherwise be buried in a landfill by using those materials as an energy resource. It’s a new way of thinking about recovering the value in the resources we have already created and making sure that society gets maximum benefits from those resources. Our long term vision for resource management is one where all materials are recovered and their value is put to beneficial use.
For plastic packaging, this means materials can be collected via the current collection infrastructure and all materials that are suitable for mechanical recycling are turned into plastic pellets for making new plastic articles. Items that can’t be recycled into pellets are converted into chemical feedstock or used as an energy resource.
About the Energy Bag Pilot Program
For three months in the summer of 2014, nearly 26,000 residents of Citrus Heights were asked to place plastic packaging and other plastic items not included in the city’s existing curbside recycling program into specially provided bright purple Energy Bags. Residents were asked to place the filled Energy Bags into their recycling bins so that the contents could then be collected and transported to a material recovery facility (MRF). The energy bags were sorted and then bundled into an “energy bale” for shipment to Agilyx, a plastics-to-oil facility, where the plastics waste was converted into synthetic crude oil.
Partners implementing the pilot program included The Dow Chemical Company, Republic Services, Agilyx, the Flexible Packaging Association, Reynolds Consumer Products, the American Chemistry Council and the amazing residents of the city of Citrus Heights, California.
Pilot Program Results
With more than 8,000 purple Energy Bags collected during the pilot, we diverted approximately 6,000 pounds of typically non-recycled items from landfills and produced 512 gallons of synthetic crude oil from the conversion process.
Our pilot has proven that consumers can collect non-recycled plastic packaging, it can be separated from other recyclable items at a MRF, and that we can convert this otherwise non-recycled material back into its original feedstock – oil and gas.
While this type of recycling to petrochemical feedstock isn’t common today, it’s conceptually similar to using corrugated containers to produce fiber which can then be transformed into something other than corrugated or using beverage cans to produce the aluminum that is incorporated into an automotive application. All these materials are valuable resources that can be used to make a variety of useful products. Collecting flexible packaging and other non-recycled plastic packaging and converting the plastic into oil closes the loop and helps us maximize the use of our natural resources.
The Power of Collaboration
The program was a successful collaboration between a coalition of material suppliers, manufacturers, brand owners, retailers, the waste and recycling industry, non-governmental organizations and most importantly, a community of residents committed to bring about change. Together, we can educate policy makers and the general public about this untapped opportunity to divert valuable resources from landfills.
Jeff Wooster is Global Sustainability Director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. To learn more about the Energy Bag Pilot Program, watch our documentary, The Power of Collaboration: the Citrus Heights Energy Bag Pilot Program that captures the leadership, commitment and collaboration required to make the pilot happen. I invite you to join our efforts in creating change. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.