The Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., introduced the Energy Bag Pilot Program,which demonstrates that certain plastics like juice pouches that are not easily recyclable under traditional models can be converted into synthetic crude oil for fuel.

Dow joined forces with the Flexible Packaging Association, Annapolis, Md.; Republic Services, Inc., Phoenix, Ariz.; Agilyx Corp., Beaverton, Ore.; Reynolds Consumer Products, LLC, Lake Forest, Ill.; and the city of Citrus Heights, Calif., during the course of 2014 to drive a collection pilot program intended to divert non-recycled plastics from landfills and optimize their resource efficiency across the lifecycle. From June to August 2014, approximately 26,000 households in Citrus Heights were given purple bags—known as “energy bags”—in which participants were asked to collect plastic items not currently eligible for mechanical recycling, so they could instead be diverted from the landfill and converted into energy. Collected items included juice pouches, frozen food bags and more.

The 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 a patented thermal pyrolysis technology, Agilyx converted the previously non-recycled plastics into high-value synthetic crude oil, which was then further refined and made into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, fuel oil, lubricants or even transformed back into plastic.

“We were extremely excited to work with all the partners involved on this first-of-its-kind pilot in the United States,” says Greg Jozwiak, North American commercial vice president for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “Through the power of this collaboration, we gained significant knowledge regarding an alternative method that complements plastics recycling, and shows that non-recycled plastic waste can be diverted from landfills, extracted for its embedded energy and put to good use. There is more work to be done to validate this option, and Dow is committed to help drive this concept.”

Due to the commitment and support from the citizens of Citrus Heights, the results of the pilot show the potential for positive, long-term environmental results, including less landfill trash, more local energy resources and less fossil fuel energy dependence.

At some point during the 3-month program, there were six collection cycles resulting in:

  • Nearly 8,000 purple Energy Bags collected
  • Approximately 6,000 poundsof typically non-recycled items diverted from landfills
  • 512 gallonsof synthetic crude oil produced from the conversion
  • 30%citizen participation
  • 78%of citizens said they would be likely to participate if given another chance

Currently, there are four commissioned commercial-scale pyrolysis plants operating in the United States, with more planned.

“This is an important milestone toward advancing change in the way we handle waste in the U.S.,” says Jeff Wooster, global sustainability leader for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics. “This pilot proved that resource recovery of non-recycled plastics is a viable municipal process. Our collaborative efforts brought us one step closer to reducing plastic waste by converting it to energy.”