Recycling capability varies from region to region, and state to state.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. recycles about 32% of waste. Only 9% of virgin plastic is recycled.

In the U.S. recycling is low for a couple different reasons, Fitterling said. “Many plastics are not collected at curbside. It’s not convenient for a customer to recycle plastics. Certain plastics are collected. Certain plastics are not.”

Because it’s not recycled in high volumes, plastic accounts for 18% of landfill trash in the U.S.

“Plastics don’t do anything in a landfill,” Fitterling said. It doesn’t harm the environment.

However, landfill owners could recycle landfill products to produce biogas or recycle plastic to generate natural gas to fuel landfill waste trucks.

In a circular economy, virgin plastic works together with recycled plastic.

“As you recycle, you need to compound with virgin materials to keep strength and functionality and so they go hand in hand,” Fitterling said.

Treaty Issues At Issue

One of the issues UN delegates will confront in Ottawa is whether certain recycling systems should be in the treaty.

Dow endorses both.

“Whether you’re talking about climate or whether you’re talking about plastics, the focus is on emissions and waste. It’s about waste reduction and being more efficient. It’s about making products with less emissions,” Fitterling said.

Dow is building the first net-zero hydrogen-powered plastic facility in the world, in Alberta, Canada, which is set to begin operations in 2027.

“So we’ll be able to make virgin plastics with zero CO2 emissions. That’s huge. If you can do that and you can recycle a material’s end of life, there’s no other packaging material that can come close to that kind of environmental footprint and that kind of life cycle analysis,” Fitterling said.

“That’ll reduce a million tons a year of CO2 emissions,” Fitterling said.

“Hydrogen is a byproduct off the production of the plastics so when we make ethylene, we make hydrogen and methane off the backend of the plant and we convert that through an autothermal reformer to pure hydrogen. It’s self-contained, a closed loop. Make ethylene, take the byproduct, convert it to pure hydrogen, and that fires the furnaces. It’s a pretty elegant design,” Fitterling said.


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