So most plastics are made from oil and most plastics do not biodegrade. See how and why here… which makes it difficult to dispose of.
- There are no natural processes in place that can absorb non biodegradable plastic back into the biological cycle. It cannot be composted or left to rot where it is dropped or dumped like organic rubbish.
- Plastic lasts for decades, maybe centuries, possibly for ever.
WHICH MEANS that every bit of plastic created has to be collected up and specially treated. All of these processes are time-consuming and so expensive.
Current methods of plastic waste disposal, (in rich countries), are
Just A big hole that we fill with rubbish. The theory was that waste would slowly biodegrade. Plastics do not biodegrade so once in a landfill it will sit there forever. That said turns out that a lot of rubbish in landfill sites do not biodegrade. William Rathje, of the University of Arizona, excavates landfill sites and has found newspapers printed in the 1950s that could still be read. Consequently the landfill is rapidly filling up.
Recycling and Reusing
Let’s be clear about this recycling is just a more responsible form of waste management. That stuff in your recycle bin is still rubbish and has to be dealt with the attendant environmental and financial costs. While recycling may offset these costs it is still expensive. Moreover recycling does not address the main issue of misusing plastic and stupidly using it to make one use throwaway items.
With that in mind lets look at plastic recycling.
Incineration & Waste to Energy –
Incinerating plastic which means burning it. At best this adds to global warming and at worst releases dioxins on of the most carcinogens known. Sometimes using the heat created is used to generate electricity which offsets the cost of waste disposal. N.B. only offsets!
Other Plastic To Energy Processes
- Gasification – resulting in a gas (!)
- Pyrolysis – plastic to fuel
- Thermal depolymerization (TDP) – plastic to fuel
Technofix – updates on the latest ways to sort it out
Plastic Waste & The Poor
As noted all the above are expensive. They require special treatment facilities, a decent infrastructure of roads and a reliable rubbish collection service. Theses facilities are often not available to poorer communities, certainly not those based in the more remote parts of the world. They have two methods of plastic waste disposal
Burning plastic – On open fires could be safe or it could kill you – depends on the plastic Find out more here
Dumping – on the outskirts of town, a major cause of plastic pollution and potential death for animals who forage there.