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Plastics-to-fuel Project Developer's Guide

Plastic to Fuel Report - Global Update on the Emerging Industry

This report commissioned by the American Chemistry Council, and undertaken by Ocean Recovery Alliance, is intended as a discussion tool for a variety of local and international stakeholders including: municipal and national governments, corporations, community leaders, business associations, NGOs, project developers, and others interested in the management of end-of-life[1] plastic waste.  It aims to highlight the opportunities available for creating value from plastics, in concert with the regulatory, technical and logistical barriers that need to be overcome on the path towards the widespread commercial adoption of plastics-to-fuel (PTF) technology.  The report can aid stakeholders by facilitating knowledge-sharing and regulatory convergence to expedite project deployment.  Not intended as a replacement to traditional recycling practices, but given the large percentage of plastic waste that bypass recycling programs for reasons such as lack of infrastructure, capacity, and technology, PTF is becoming a viable addition to a jurisdictions mix of municipal solid waste (MSW) management strategies.


Plastics are an essential material for modern existence.  Plastics make up many of the everyday products we use, as well as the packaging that encloses a vast variety of products.  As economies continue to expand, the production and consumption of plastics has increased to meet the needs of growing markets.  Global plastics production is an estimated 300 million metric tons each year and is growing at a rate of 4% annually.[2]  With plastic production increasing, plastic waste generation is also on the rise.  The World Bank projects that 1.3 billion metric tons of MSW is generated each year, a number that is expected to grow to 2.2 billion metric tons per year (MTPY) by 2025.  10% of the total MSW produced, or 130 Million MTPY, is plastic.[3]

Waste management is one of the world’s greatest environmental challenges.  An estimated 4.8 to 12.7 metric tons of plastic litter enter the ocean every year[4] and despite global initiatives to reduce it, volumes of marine litter continue to increase as the world’s consuming population grows.[5]  Largely rooted in inadequate waste management practices on land, an estimated 80% of marine litter originates from land-based sources.  Experts believe that the largest generators are urban, industrial and recreational activities adjacent to coastal and riparian zones[6] in middle-income countries that have transitioned to a disposable economy but have not yet developed the waste collection and treatment infrastructure for proper management.[7]  These weak systems can reduce to a number of environmental impacts, one of which is water pollution.

Managing plastic marine litter is challenging.  Once plastics enter the ocean, its sources and impacts are trans-boundary by nature, making it difficult to assign jurisdictional responsibility for mitigation and clean up.  Existing global regulatory frameworks focus almost exclusively on maritime issues after plastics have already become marine litter, rather than on litter prevention and upstream interventions.  Complicating matters, marine litter is seldom recognized in solid waste management policy and regulations, leading to debates over whether it falls under the realm of national solid waste, water, stormwater, wastewater or marine authorities.  Municipal and national solid waste management strategies that improve waste collection and management systems offer the best opportunity for reducing marine litter loading rates.

Over the past few years, PTF technologies have emerged as one potential solution to reducing plastic marine litter and the landfilling of end-of-life plastics.  PTF is an advanced waste conversion technology that is considered complementary to existing recycling efforts as it typically does not target plastic resins that are highly valued by commodity recycling markets.  Furthermore, since plastics have an energy value higher than coal[8], the landfilling of end-of-life plastic waste constitutes a loss of an important energy resource[9][10].  By creating demand for end-of-life plastics, PTF technologies can not only help address this global challenge and mitigate the flow of plastic to the ocean, but can also create jobs and generate an alternative local fuel source that can serve as a substitute to fossil fuel derived crude oil.  Through different configurations of pyrolysis technologies, the principal output of PTF technologies is a liquid petroleum product - either a synthetic crude oil or refined fuels which can be used as home heating oil (fuel oil No. 2), a blendstock in the production of No. 2 diesel fuel, gasoline and kerosene, fuel for combined heat and power generation equipment and industrial purposes, and residual fuel oils for sale to heavy oil users.  In many parts of the world, liquid petroleum products derived from plastics represent a lower-sulfur content product, yielding air quality benefits as well.

[1] End-of-life plastics are defined as plastics that would otherwise be disposed of in a landfill.  They can originate from post-consumer or post-industrial sources and be made up of both rigid and film plastics

[2] Global plastics production was estimated at 288 million metric tons in 2012. Source:

[3] The World Bank, “What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management,” March 2012, 


[4] Jambeck, Jenna et al., “Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean,” Science 13 February 2015:

Vol. 347 no. 6223 pp. 768-771,, Accessed February 20, 2015.

[5] United Nations Environment Programme

[6] Greenpeace. “Plastic Debris in the Worlds Oceans.”


[7] Armitage, N. (2007) 'The reduction of urban litter in the stormwater drains of South Africa', Urban Water Journal, 4:3, 151 — 172

[8] Themelis, NJ et al. “Energy And Economic Value Of Nonrecycled Plastics (NRP) and Municipal Solid Wastes (MSW) That Are Currently Landfilled In the Fifty States,” Columbia University, August 16, 2011. Accessed January 2015.

[9] “Toward the Circular Economy: Opportunities for the Consumer Goods Sector,” Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013.

[10] Plastic film is a flexible material made from different types of resins: LLDPE, LDPE, HDPE, PP, PVC, and Nylon.[10] Examples of plastic film products include trash bags, plastic bags, sacks & wraps and lined paper bags and sacks. According to the Flexible Packaging Association (FPA), the estimated amount of flexible packaging waste (FPW) generated in the US is 5.8 million tons per year. Flexible packaging waste represents 2.4% or 1.5 % of the total Municipal Solid Waste generated in the US, according to the EPA.

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