One of North America's largest cement manufacturers is considering burning plastics as a fuel for one of its plants in Pennsylvania.
Lafarge Corp.'s cement kiln in Whitehall Township, near Allentown, Pa., is looking at plastics that are rejected from the local recycling stream. The company said it would be the first kiln in North America to burn plastic waste.
Company officials estimated that they could pull 10,000 tons of plastic a year from the region, which includes the rest of Lehigh Valley and Allentown.
``There's enough there to make this project fly,'' said Dave Dziubinski, plant manager for the Whitehall facility. ``There's nothing we've seen from the technical side that tells us we wouldn't pursue this project.''
Lafarge said burning plastic would save the company about $1 a ton in manufacturing cost. Cement sells for between $60 and $100 a ton, he said.
Lafarge has not made a final decision, but is presenting its plan to the community and plans to conduct test burns in the spring to measure how well it works and what happens to its emissions.
Dziubinski said plastic may be cleaner than the coal it replaces as a fuel. When the company started burning tires nine years ago, it improved emissions compared with coal, he said.
``We think we're going to see the same thing with plastics,'' he said.
Cement kilns burn at about 3,000° F, hot enough for complete combustion of materials containing chlorine, said Michelle Lusk, director of government affairs for the Cement Kiln Recycling Coalition in Washington. Chlorine is found in PVC, and improper combustion of chlorine can produce dioxin.
Whitehall's top local elected official said he is approaching the proposal with ``healthy skepticism.''
The township has hired environmental consultants to examine the proposal, said Glenn Solt, the township executive, a position equivalent to mayor.
Some members of the public and other township board members oppose the proposal, but Solt said he wants to see the results of the tests and listen to what the government's consultants have to say, he said.
``I'm not predisposed to believe it would be good or bad,'' he said.
The company's plan calls for taking plastic that has been collected for recycling but that cannot be recycled, including containers and bottles labeled with resin identification codes three through seven.
State environmental officials said the company will present a formal proposal after it conducts its test burns.
``We would have to see what they are actually proposing and what their emissions would be,'' said Mark Carmon, spokesman for the Pennsylvanian Department of Environmental Protection.