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Plastic-to-Oil Conversion and Oregon House Bill 3597: Friend Or Foe?

Posted on the 16 May 2011 by Livinggreenor

I originally wrote this article for Create Plenty several weeks ago, but I wanted to get the word out far and wide.  Please share your thoughts on plastics-to-oil conversion in the comments section below.

Plastic-to-Oil Conversion and Oregon House Bill 3597: Friend or Foe?

Recently, a new bill was introduced in the Oregon state legislature that would redefine recycling to include plastics-to-oil operators and change the solid waste hierarchy.  It would allow a plant located in Tigard, Oregon, that turns waste plastics into fuel to count as recycling rather than energy recovery and allow it to receive a tax credit.  Current state subsidies are not given for such a purpose.

House Bill 3597 would modify current law to say the state should “establish a comprehensive statewide program for solid waste management” that “recycles material that can’t be reused, including but not limited to processing waste plastic into synthetic crude oil.”

Agilyx, the Tigard, Oregon based company, converts scrap plastic or difficult to recycle plastic into crude oil by heating and gasifying the plastic then condensing the resulting chemical compounds into liquid oil, which can be stored, transported and refined through conventional means.

A company spokesperson states: “What our technology solution does is recycling,” “We cannot and do not compete with established recycling, but we look at what we do as a new form of recycling and we’re encouraged that the legislature is recognizing that.”

I, personally, think it’s a Band-Aid fix to our plastics addiction.  We’ve become so plastics-obsessed that it’s the topic of every other conversation; it saves lives yet it also takes valuable life away (familiar with the great pacific garbage patch floating in the middle of the ocean?).  What’s wrong with glass or reusing what’s already out there?  And what about the energy needed to power the equipment to convert the plastics-to-oil operations or even the resources needed to make the equipment?  A life-cycle energy-return-on-energy-invested study has not been done for such plants.  The embedded energy in the plastic and the natural gas to convert plastic to fuel may be greater than the potential energy in the fuel, or marginal at best.  Who knows, the greenhouse gases created by the plant may be far greater than any gases diverted.   It sounds like a great idea, at first thought, but is it really?

As of April 27th, the bill is currently in the Tax Credits Committee.  With the combination of potential favorable legislation, a new investment (Waste Management) and high oil prices, things are looking promising for Agilyx.

What’s your stand on plastics-to-oil conversions?

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