Engineers know that technologies that recover energy from waste are already quietly working to generate heat, power and fuel every day, all year round. But in April, energy recovery was in the spotlight, garnering attention from industry, government and academics at the largest waste-to-energy conference in North America.
Speakers at the conference described exciting business innovations, technologies and public policy frameworks that are helping to drive the growth of energy recovery around the world.
The recovery of non-recycled plastics, in particular, was a “hot” topic in several sessions because of the high BTU value of non-recycled plastics and the importance of non-recycled plastics as a feedstock for most energy recovery technologies.
The value of non-recycled plastics as part of energy recovery is fueling technology developments and new start-up companies. The Plastic2Oil® process, for example, being developed by JBI Inc. was highlighted for using technology to produce specification-quality liquid fuels from hard-to-recycle feedstock streams including automotive gas tanks, agricultural film and food packaging. JBI is in the process of commercializing the technology at their Niagara Falls, NY, plant.
The Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University presented a paper that assesses the potential for incorporating energy recovered from non-recycled plastics into New York City’s landfill diversion plans. The paper noted that conversion technologies would have low environmental impacts and recover a valuable resource for New York that is currently going to landfill at high cost to the city.
Another speaker described his vision for the public policy that can drive a sustainable waste model in the U.S. The keys, according to the speaker, are to “educate, legislate and communicate” based on more realistic goals and practical systems. The speaker emphasized that when it comes to sustainability policy, “we can’t afford to let the perfect interfere with the practical.”
Another highlight of the conference: Attendees could tour one of the most advanced integrated solid waste campuses on the continent at the nearby Lee County Resource Recovery Facility. Attendees saw first-hand how public policy that supports a modern integrated waste management system including waste collection, recycling, composting and energy recovery can work for all stakeholders in a community.
The importance of recognizing non-recycled plastics in the waste stream as a resource was a recurrent theme for speakers and attendees at the conference. Used plastics are too valuable to waste and should be recycled whenever possible and recovered for energy when they cannot.
Greg Wilkinson is a Principal at The Earnscliffe Strategy Group and Former President and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.