Iowa passes new bill on advanced plastic recycling

Pyrolysis technology can recycle the bottles inside these bags AND the bags (flickr).

Julia Poska| April 12, 2019

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Reynolds passed a bill this week in support of chemical recycling facilities for plastic in the state.

The bill defines gasification and pyrolysis, two chemical recycling methods, as processes that convert waste plastics into raw materials like crude oil, gasoline and other chemicals by heating and melting them in oxygen-deficient environments then processing them accordingly.  Those materials can be used to make new plastic products or as “feedstock” to fuel industrial processes. Plants conducting these activities in Iowa will be regulated more like manufacturing plants than solid waste disposal facilities, according to the trade publication Plastics Recycling Update.

There are obvious benefits to recycling plastics. Transforming plastic waste into useful materials will keep it out of landfills, rivers and oceans. A National Geographic story on plastic recycling said that pyrolysis plants can handle filmy plastic bags, which most traditional recycling plants cannot. Recycling also reduces the amount of new material that must be manufactured to meet demands.

Recycling Today reported that five advanced recycling facilities could generate $309 million annually by converting 25 percent of Iowa’s plastic waste into industrial feedstocks or transportation fuel. According to National Geographic, however, it is still cheaper to make diesel from fossil fuel than plastic. The article said pyrolysis startups have closed in the past because they haven’t been able to make money or meet pollution control limits.

Burning plastics releases carbon and toxins into the atmosphere, albeit at fairly low rates  according to industry experts. Michigan State University Extension says gasoline and diesel produced from plastic appear to contain more energy and less carbon that traditional fossil fuels, too.

Plastics Recycling Update said the Iowa Recycling Association had been opposed to the bill but did not say why. This post will be updated if and when the Iowa Environmental Focus is able to learn more.

Construction begins on $80M hog-waste-to-energy facility in Missouri

Nick Fetty | August 12, 2014
An Iowa farmer tends to his hogs. (Danielle Hughson/Flickr)
An Iowa farmer attends to his hogs. (Danielle Hughson/Flickr)

Construction has begun on an $80 million facility in northern Missouri that will convert hog waste into usable energy.

The facility will utilize a process known as anaerobic digestion which uses “bacteria (to) break down manure in an oxygen-free environment.” Impermeable covers are installed on top of lagoons which trap the biogas. The biogas is then cleaned of any impurities, such as sulfur, making it chemically similar to natural gas.

Germany currently utilizes 6,800 anaerobic digestion facilities which power millions of German households and an estimated 8,200 dairy and swine operations in the Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) could support similar anaerobic systems.

Various farms and other operations in Iowa have utilized anaerobic digestion techniques and the benefits of anaerobic digestion on swine farms in Iowa has been discussed as far back as 1999. Stockton, Iowa-based Agri ReNew was a recipient of the 2014 American Biogas Council Biogas Project of the Year Award for “the execution of a quality agricultural based project and sustainable business model which can be replicated at farms across the U.S.”

The Missouri project is a collaboration between Roeslein Alternative Energy and Murphy-Brown of Missouri. Renewable natural gas production is expected to begin by fall of 2014.

Iowa Public Radio discusses environmental issues affecting Iowans

Nick Fetty | July 8, 2014
Recycling recepticles in the Iowa City predestrian mall.  Photo by Scott Schumacher; flickr
Recycling recepticles in the Iowa City predestrian mall.
Photo by Scott Schumacher; flickr

On Mondays this July, Iowa Public Radio’s Ripple Effects series will examine environmental issues across the state.

This week’s edition featured stories about trash including a River to River segment about landfills in Iowa and waste-to-energy technology such as Ames’s Resource Recovery System. Mike Smith of the Iowa DNR discussed the possibility of groundwater contamination due to landfills while representatives from two waste-to-energy facilities discussed these alternative energy methods in Iowa.

Talk of Iowa discussed recycling in Iowa and offered advice for proper recycling practices. The report states that 50 to 80 percent of recyclable materials ends up in landfills and also examines the ecological benefits of composting. “Most of what we throw away everyday are the carbon and nitrogen – green and brown components – food and paper waste that building organic matter for soil. This is not rocket science but it is soil science,” said Scott Koepke, Chief Gardener for Soilmates Organic Garden Education Service in Iowa City.

IPR invites listeners to provide their feedback on environmental issues in Iowa by filling out this survey.