In Indiana, a new solution to plastic waste is emerging

Sustainability |  2 min. read
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The need for heightened sanitary practices during the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a comeback for single-use plastic grocery bags at U.S. supermarkets.

Their increased use, of course, has simultaneously raised concern over mounting plastic waste. Hard-to-recycle grocery bags often end up in landfills and, in fact, only 9 percent of all the world’s plastic waste end up recycled, according to the United Nations.

A groundbreaking project in Indiana could be a solution to this significant problem. A chemical recycling plant under construction near Fort Wayne plans to turn all sorts of plastics including Styrofoam, children’s toys, milk cartons and of course even those difficult to recycle plastic bags into fuel for cars and trucks.

Brightmark Energy is behind the first-of-its-kind project in the U.S. that aims to collect plastic waste from nearby cities such as Indianapolis and Chicago and transform them into ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and other products.

The plant will use a low-emissions process called pyrolysis, which uses high temperatures and low oxygen levels to break down a wide range of plastic products and transform them into key hydrocarbon mixtures that can be used as fuel or as a raw material to make base petrochemicals such as ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene and xylene.

The plant will be able to accommodate almost any type of plastic whether it’s recyclable, or not.

The plant is under construction and expected to be completed next year.

Once up and running, the facility will turn about 100,000 tons of plastic each year into over 18 million gallons a year of diesel energy and naphtha, which is used to make petrochemical building blocks to make a variety of products including laundry soaps, paint and varnishes. The plant will also produce almost six million gallons of industrial wax which is used to coat lumber among other uses.

“It will be 93% efficient and will only have a small bit of unusable output — in the form of a non-toxic powder — that can be sent to the landfill,” according to the Indianapolis Star.

Brightmark said it aims to build more of its chemical recycling plants around the U.S. to serve additional metropolitan areas so that, all across the nation, the trucks delivering produce to supermarkets, could soon be fueled from the very plastic bags that carried your groceries home.

Pyrolysis can also be used to turn old plastic products into new plastic products – not just grocery bags, but also medical supplies and car parts. It’s all part of an emerging concept called the circular economy, which can radically change how we reuse scarce resources and put an end to waste altogether.

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