American Chemistry MattersA Blog of the American Chemistry Council

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… and Recover

Most of us have heard the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” and today more and more voices are adding a fourth “R” to the mix to help ensure our nation’s energy future: Recover. As in recovering energy from waste.

All four “Rs” play a key role in the U.S. EPA’s waste management hierarchy, and according to a recent article in Plastics Today, Dow Chemical is one of the voices helping to promote an integrated 4R approach in order to “help assure greater total value recovery from end-of-life plastics and other used materials.”

Today, more than 80 traditional energy recovery facilities are operating in the U.S., turning municipal solid waste into domestically produced energy. And thanks to technology innovations, there are an increasing number of opportunities to extract even more energy. In fact, some recent innovations can convert used plastics into a form of crude oil or other types of fuels.

Although the processes and technologies used to extract energy from waste can vary, they all provide an important source of domestic alternative energy to local communities.

In the article, Jeff Wooster, Dow’s global sustainability leader for plastics, explains that energy recovery can help maximize the value of difficult-to-recycle materials:

[quote]While it makes economic sense to recycle (many) materials, there are a lot of packages that can’t be easily recycled. The best thing to do in that case is recover the energy.[/quote]

Acknowledging that some have questioned whether energy recovery will divert materials from the recycling stream, Wooster also points out that energy recovery supports and complements recycling:

[quote]The key is understanding how energy recovery works as a system because mechanical recycling and energy recovery work together. We have the potential to recycle and recover energy from a large amount of material.[/quote]

ACC agrees that after use, materials should next be available for recycling, and what is not then recycled should be converted to energy. We’re excited by the potential these new technologies are offering to further optimize the energy and economic value of our waste streams… because plastics are, truly, too valuable to waste.

ACC is optimistic that with many communities converting to single-stream recycling and collecting more material as a result, there will be plenty of plastics and other materials available for both recycling and recovery.

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