Energy Recovery: From Plastic Waste to Energy

Innovative manufacturers are deriving fuel from plastic waste and developing new feedstock materials for manufacturing using an emerging set of technologies. We call the processes by which solid waste is converted into energy or feedstocks energy recovery. Follow the process of converting plastic to energy below or download the infographic.

The Power of Waste

A recent study from the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University assessed the energy value of municipal solid waste that is currently sent to U.S. landfills. It demonstrates the tremendous potential of modern technologies that convert waste into energy to help boost energy security, reduce landfill waste and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

13.8 M homes powered



13.8 Million Homes

If current capacity were to be expanded so that all of the non-recycled municipal solid waste that is currently sent to U.S. landfills each year could instead be converted to energy, we could generate enough electricity to supply 13.8 million homes with power.

9M cars fueled


5.7B Gallons of Gas

9M Cars

If current capacity were to be expanded so that the U.S. could convert all its non-recycled plastics into oil each year, we could produce 5.7 billion gallons of gas annually. That's enough to fuel nearly 9 million cars each year.

6K acres saved


Energy = 6K Acres

If capacity were to be expanded so that we could convert our non-recycled waste to alternative energy instead of landfilling it, we would have the opportunity to preserve more than 6,000 acres of open space every year that would otherwise be used to store garbage

23M cars off our roads


Energy Reduces 123M Tons CO2 = 23M Less Cars

If capacity were to be expanded so that we could convert all of our non-recycled waste into energy instead of landfilling it, we could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by nearly 123 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. This is comparable to removing 23 million cars from our roads.

More About Energy Recovery

While plastics recycling rates in the U.S. are continuing to increase, not all types of plastic packaging can be recycled. For example, some high-performance plastic packaging applications manufactured with a combination of resins are generally not compatible with current mainstream recycling technology. However, emerging energy recovery technologies are allowing innovative manufacturers to derive fuel from plastic waste and develop new feedstock materials for manufacturing.

Through a combination of recycling and energy conversion, the United States recovered 27% of used plastics in 2013. Energy recovery is expected to grow, as plastic makers have set and are working to achieve aggressive goals for the reuse, recycling and recovery of 100% of plastic packaging by 2040, with interim goals by 2030.

A Circular Economy for Plastics

Powering Homes and Business with Plastic Waste

Fuel from plastic waste today powers homes and businesses. The hydrocarbons that make up most plastic packaging are a source of energy. For example, common plastic food service products supply more than 16,000 BTUs (similar to the big burner on a stove) per pound in a “waste-to-energy” facility. That’s approximately twice as much energy per pound as coal. Rather than burying this stored energy in landfills, communities can recapture it.

See how Recycling and Energy Recovery work together in this 2-pronged approach to diverting plastics from landfills in the infographic below.

View Infographic

Materials Recovery for the Future

In 2015, leading companies throughout the flexible packaging value chain launched an effort to advance the understanding of how non-recycled types of flexible packaging (e.g., multi-layered pouches) can be effectively sorted for recovery. The collaboration, Materials Recovery for the Future, released results of its preliminary findings in 2016. Get more details.