As President and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, Greg Wilkinson may know a lot more about plastics than your typical Canadian or American citizen, but that’s exactly what needs to change, Wilkinson told Focus Washington host Rich Masters in an online television interview last week.
Wilkinson referred Masters to a new study from Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center, which asked: “How much energy value are we burying when we landfill plastics?” The answer, researchers discovered, was astounding. Plastics, with 25 percent more energy value than coal, could produce enough energy to power 5.2 million households annually – the number of homes in Georgia and Oklahoma combined – or six million cars.
Education about plastics and energy recovery isn’t the only gap Wilkinson would like to bridge. There’s a cultural mindset that needs to change, too.
North Americans, Wilkinson explains, look at municipal solid “waste” as something that should be buried, whereas Europeans think of it as a “resource,” something that can be leveraged. You can see this cultural discrepancy in the number of energy recovery facilities that exist in Europe – around 400 – compared to the number the U.S. has built – only 86.
Choosing the “resource” rather than the “waste” mindset, Europeans have integrated these facilities into their communities, sometimes even in central locations, which allows them to take better advantage of the heat and electricity the facilities produce. It also reveals how Europeans “fundamentally understand and trust the technology” – seeing it, Wilkinson says, as “safe, clean, reliable.”
Learn more about energy recovery technologies.