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Can Plastics Be a Significant Source of Alternative Energy?

Greg Wilkinson, President and CEO of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association sat down with Rich Masters on Focus Washington to discuss a groundbreaking new study from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Professors at Columbia recently completed a study revealing how much energy value Americans are burying by placing non-recycled plastics in landfills. Wilkinson remarked on the astounding results "Americans are burying enough energy to power 5.2 million homes, which is the same amount of homes in Georgia and Oklahoma combined," Wilkinson said. "Likewise, it is the same amount of energy that could be used to power 6 million automobiles."

Wilkinson explained that residual plastics have 25% more energy than coal and detailed two of the three processes that can extract this energy post-recycling, or what is more commonly known as "waste recovery." "The first is a traditional energy from waste where solid waste is taken to one of 86 American conversion facilities. The second way is what they call "solid recovered fuel." An example of this would be taking mixed plastics and putting them into a fuel pellet and substituting the fuel in the pellet for a dirtier fuel."

Masters notes that despite the options for energy recovery there is still a lack of effort to utilize this resource in the United States. Wilkinson explained, "It is a fundamental mindset and that Americans think of it as waste and as something that they should bury or hide." He goes on to discuss the differences between the view on plastics in America and Europe. "They [Europeans] think of it as an asset, where there are more than 400 facilities, compared to our 86. But most importantly, Europeans trust the technology and know it is safe, clean, and reliable."

Wilkinson concludes that in order for Americans' mentality to change there must be a change in education and a change in mindset when it comes to plastics. Americans need to move from the idea of plastics as waste to the idea of plastics as a resource.

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