Sustainability | Ecotrope

Plastics to oil, and the end of "gardeners' guilt"

Ecotrope | April 6, 2011 4:12 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:39 p.m.

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A post by Oregon Field Guide producer Ed Jahn

Turn plastics into fuel? Cheaply? Here in Oregon? So says the story in the Portland Business Journal. Could this process also spell the end of “gardeners’ guilt”—that feeling plant-a-holics get each spring as they stare at piles of discarded plastic nursery pots destined for the landfill?

When I first read the story about this plastics-to-oil process I called Allen Jongsma, co-president of Agri-Plas . We profiled Agri-Plas for Oregon Field Guide about 8 years ago when they were just a small start-up in Kaiser (see video above), and they served as a demonstration site for the early Agilyx prototype.

Allen says the plastics-to-oil process, engineered by Tigard company Agilyx, works really, really well. With conventional ‘drilled-from-the-earth’ oil going for about $100 a barrel, Allen said he wished he had the systems up and running right now (he has 8 on order). Even with the costs of getting the plastics, converting it to oil and transporting it, the system can produce high grade gasoline or diesel fuel for about $45-$50/ barrel. Allen says they hope to turn 40,000 pounds of plastic waste into 100 barrels of refinery ready crude oil, every single day, once they install the eight units they have on order.

But here’s what got my attention: the process will accept everything plastic. Dirty nursery pots? Yep. Cottage cheese containers with cellophane still stuck to it? Yep. Milk jug with cap still attached? Uh huh. Plastic kids toy without that little number on bottom? Absolutely. Polystyrene, water bottles, plastic forks, PVC, bags, caps, lids, nursery pots…if it’s got plastic in it, it can be turned into oil. This could mean the end of sorting plastics, the end of that nagging guilt you get when you toss some questionable plastic tidbit into the bin wondering, “was that recycleable?”.  Allen says even dirty or mixed plastics can produce high-end, clean diesel fuel.

So, all you gardeners staring at pile upon pile of springtime nursery pots? You could soon find yourselves in the oil business.

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