Dow Promoting Incineration

Dow Chemical is recycling plastic the old fashioned way, they are burning it. The company wrapped up a trial at its Midland, Michigan, headquarters facility where it incinerated 578 lbs of linear low-density polyethylene film waste from its nearby extrusion laboratories. The company was able to recover 96% of the energy from the plastic, an equivalent, it says, of about 11.1 million Btu of natural gas. Dow is suggesting that incinerating plastic is a viable alternative to the landfill for those plastics that aren’t commercially recycled. It also asserts that waste-to-energy technology is an underused scheme in the U.S. compared to Europe, where the practice is fairly common. I couldn’t agree more. I grew up in Staten Island where hostility to landfills is pretty well entrenched. For decades, half the borough smelled like sour milk. We are letting a lot of good energy and land go to waste by burying trash. You may be wondering about greenhouse gas emissions. I asked Dow about that. “Polyethylene and natural gas have similar fuel values and emit a similar amount of CO2 when burned,” I was told. True? Well, fair enough. I did my own calculations. I came up with 75 kg of carbon dioxide per kilogram of polyethylene burned. The value for natural gas is about 54 kg. That’s a 39% difference. However, the value for polyethylene matches crude oil and middle distillates almost exactly and is less than petroleum coke. (Granted, this isn’t something I do every day. So my calculation for polyethylene might have erred somewhere.)

Author: Alex Tullo

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2 Comments

  1. What’s the big deal about burning plastic? How Dow can claim anything original in this is beyond me. Most of the trash in the Twin Cities is already burned and used to generate electricity. Please, someone tell me what I am missing!

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  2. Good point, John. But I don’t think that Dow is claiming a breakthrough here. I think they are just making the point that not enough waste to energy occurs in the U.S.