Report from Columbia's Earth Engineering Center: Energy & Economic Value of Non-recycled Plastics & Municipal Solid Wastes

Mechanical recycling of plastics has continued to grow in the United States, with 2.1 million tons of plastics recycled in 2009. This includes recovery of used plastics from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles, non-bottle rigid containers, and some flexible packaging. However, despite the efforts of many communities to source-separate plastics, less than 15% of the U.S. post-consumer plastics are being diverted from landfills by means of recycling and energy recovery.

Therefore, while continuing its efforts to increase plastics recycling, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) is also seeking ways to recover more of the energy value of non-recycled plastics (NRP) in the form of electricity, heat, or petrochemical feedstock. Landfilling of NRP constitutes a loss of a valuable energy resource. Capturing the energy value of non-recycled plastics will contribute to sustainable development and enhance national energy security.