What is Energy Recovery?

Energy Recovery: An Untapped Source of Alternative Energy

Energy recovery includes any process that converts waste material into energy. Some non-recycled plastics, which may contain a higher energy value than coal, are able to be converted into energy, such as electricity, or alternative fuels like synthetic gas.

While the benefits of energy recovery have been largely unknown among policymakers, there is growing momentum behind energy recovery innovation among legislative leaders at the local, state and federal level. 

We must continue to help our elected officials acknowledge that non-recycled plastics could provide a supply of abundant, alternative energy and should be recognized as such. It is also important to continue to educate the general public and decision makers about the abundant promise of energy recovery.

Chemistry: Transforming Waste into a Valuable Energy Resource

Although recycling rates for many plastics in the U.S. are growing and must continue to do so, tons of non-recycled plastics are buried in landfills every day – wasting a valuable energy source. 

Non-recycled plastics, however, are being transformed right now into alternative energy through advanced energy recovery technologies like waste-to-energy and plastics-to-oil. Waste-to-energy facilities produce clean, renewable energy in the form of electricity or heat from municipal solid waste, while plastics-to-oil transforms non-recycled plastic into a valuable commodity, creating a reliable source for alternative energy from an abundant, no-cost feedstock.

What are the Benefits of Waste to Energy?

Energy recovery technologies like waste-to-energy complement recycling and reduce waste that would otherwise be sent to landfills. 

A 2011 study from Columbia University found that if all of the non-recycled waste produced in the United States each year were recovered for energy, it could power over 16 million American homes. If all of our non-recycled plastics were converted into alternative energy, rather than buried in landfills, they could power at least 6 million cars each year. And if those same non-recycled plastics were sent to waste-to-energy plants to be converted into electricity, they could power over 5 million American homes annually.

The Environmental Protection Agency is on record saying that established waste-to-energy facilities generate electricity with “less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity.” 

Energy Recovery: Our Policy Position

Our nation’s energy policy must harness all of America’s viable energy sources, including recovering energy from waste, to continue creating the innovative products and jobs our economy needs, strengthen our economy, make our domestic energy supplies go further than ever and improve our energy security.
  • Definitions of “renewable energy” should be broadened to ensure that all municipal solid waste, not just the biomass fraction, and non-recycled plastics are covered as renewable energy sources, and both traditional waste-to-energy recovery as well as emerging thermal conversion technologies are recognized.
  • Regulations and permitting processes should not discourage the establishment of new energy recovery capacity.