For Dow, Burning Hard-to-Recycle Plastic Better than Landfilling

For Dow, Burning Hard-to-Recycle Plastic Better than Landfilling

Meat with plastic wrap - CC license by procsilas/Flickr

Burning trash doesn't sound like much of an eco-friendly strategy, but Dow Chemical Company found out that when it comes to dealing with plastics that aren't easily recyclable, incineration has benefits over landfills.

As part of a test project, Dow took 578 pounds of scrap plastic film from one of its laboratories and burned it in a kiln at a waste treatment plant, using the energy generated to fuel the incinerator.

Dow said that 96 percent of the available energy from the plastic was recovered in the process. Dow currently sends scrap plastic from that lab to landfill.

The plastic incinerated in the test was linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE), a material used in plastic bags, plastic wrap and films, as well as other products like cable covers and tubes.

Dow conducted the test to get a direct understanding of how well energy recovery works with the plastics the company makes and sells, said Jeff Wooster, plastics sustainability leader for Dow's North American plastics business.

Dow also plans to share the results of the test with customers that use its plastics. Wooster said that information can be useful to a company that wants to reclaim packaging for some sort of reuse and wants to know if it would be useful for energy recovery.

"We view energy recovery as being complementary to mechanical recycling," Wooster said. Although plastics like shopping bags and stretch films are becoming more commonly collected and recycled, some films are either not collected or difficult to recycle. Plastic wraps for meats and cheeses can pose a challenge because additional materials that help preserve food are added to them, but also complicate recycling.

Dow will hold additional incineration trials with its plastics outside of its facilities to test out other energy recovery technologies.

Meat with plastic wrap - CC license by procsilas/Flickr