Saturday, December 9, 2017

Our plastics are about to come back to haunt us

Plastic. So handy, light, doesn’t break. We use it, toss it and the recyclers send it off to China. No more. China is closing its ports to foreign waste. Welcome to the land of “There Is No Away.” You can’t throw things “away.” You just throw them into someone else's backyard.

We rapidly need to find a solution or all your plastic recycling will end up in landfills. Options include:

  • Adding a deposit to all plastics that would cover the cost of recycling. (This would have the additional benefit of giving plastic trash value, encouraging its collection not only by the customers but also by poor people who can benefit from the extra income. States with bottle deposits might find this easy to implement.)
  • Come up with value-added products that can be made here from the plastic (eg, grinding it for 3-D printer filament.)
  • Burning the plastic in waste to energy plants (Unfortunately there are few W2E plants in the US but some people are exploring repurposing coal fired plants. You still have to transport the materials to the plants so you need these close to the collection sites or the fuel used to transport it--until we have electric trucks on the road--may offset the environmental benefits of processing them.)
  • Switching to bio-based plastics that truly will decompose in municipal composting operations. (Downside: Many places don't have large-scale composting.)
  • Switching to other packaging. (Unfortunately the options tend to be either heavier—like glass— or even harder to recycle—like tetrapaks.)
  • Put the plastic in segregated landfills so we can mine it later.
Got a better idea? The plastic is already backing up.

1 comment:

  1. Here are a several useful charts that can help us all understand the scope of the plastics pollution problem.