This just in: Oregon plastics recycler, Agri-Plas, has begun converting plastic waste back into crude oil. According to Businesswire, “the company recently delivered its first full tanker (8,200 gallons) of oil to a refinery in Tacoma, Wash., which translates to a final delivery of 196 barrels of oil.”
The method was developed by Plas2Fuel, a Kelso, Washington alternative energy company.
Until now, Agri-Plas has been a conventional plastics recycler, focusing on agricultural waste such as greenhouse film, nursery pots and plastic binder twine, as well as limited amounts of household plastic waste, which it recycles into other plastic products.
Now, the company is collecting dirty plastic materials which are unsuitable for traditional recycling for the plastic to oil process. And the state of Oregon has been a major supporter of the project, giving financial assistance through the Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit.
Right now, my head is swimming with all kinds of pros and cons. Here are the ramifications that occur to me. Maybe you guys can think of more.
First, the pros:
1) Whether we like it or not, our landfills are already chock full of dirty plastic, possibly leaching chemicals. Perhaps this material doesn’t have to go to waste.
2) It does seem preferable to use our own domestic waste to create petroleum rather than importing it from the Middle East or extracting it through offshore drilling.
Next, the cons:
1) Burning petroleum for fuel produces the greenhouse gases related to global climate change. (I know at least one FPF reader will disagree with that statement.)
2) Finding uses for our plastic waste could support the creation of more plastic waste. Will consumers feel relieved of their burden of responsibility? Will they continue to support the manufacture of new plastic products?
As I’ve pointed out before, plastic is fraught with many other environmental problems besides the waste issue. From manufacture to transit to end use, plastic wreaks havoc in our oceans (as pre-production “nurdles”) and in our bodies, leaching toxic chemicals. Will the idea that plastic can be converted to energy cause people to forget these other issues?
One paragraph in the article caused me to gasp:
The synthetic crude oil that Agri-Plas is reclaiming from unwanted plastic can be refined for a variety of uses. The oil can be refined and used in literally thousands of high-end products ranging from makeup to food items, as well as gasoline, diesel, lubricants and other petroleum-based products.
I’m sorry? Synthetic petroleum in my makeup? Synthetic petroleum in my food? WTF people? How are these uses environmentally sustainable?
Okay, just because it can be used in those ways doesn’t mean it will be. And extracted petroleum is already being used to create food and cosmetic additives. Still, do we want the environmental community getting behind this dirty business?
Please let me know what you think. Do the benefits of converting plastic to oil outweigh possible concerns?