Plastic Shopping Bags May Have a New Use

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recycleAll those plastic bags that you bring home from the grocery store may turn out to be useful. Not only do they clutter homes, but there is also an abundance of them on land and at sea. Now, scientists have found that these bags can be converted to diesel, natural gas and other petroleum products. According to an article in eScience News, the process to convert the bags results in a much larger volume of energy than it takes. The resulting transportation fuels can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels. The original study results were reported in the science journal, Fuel Processing Technology.

Brajendra Kumar Sharma, a senior research scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, led the research. Sharma explained that while you can only get from 50 to 55 percent fuel from distilling crude oil, the plastic in the bags is already made from petroleum. That means nearly 80 percent fuel can be recovered through the distillation process.

With Americans throwing away approximately 100 billion of the plastic bags annually, and only about 13 percent of the overall number being recycled, there are too many bags ending up in landfills or escaping into the landscape or waterways. The plastic bags play a big role in the giant ocean garbage patches that are responsible for killing wildlife and littering beaches. As the plastic ages, it breaks into tiny pieces that are then digested by aquatic animals. Some animals also become entangled in them.

The results of the study showed that the resulting energy was “perfect” for blending with other fuels and may pose a solution to a problem that is growing more serious each year.

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