Killing our planet with plastics

begreen Posted By begreen, Jul 2, 2017 at 11:55 AM

  1. begreen

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    "The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity."
    This is a must fix situation. The plastic bottle blitz started in the 1990's. Now CocaCola alone produces 100 BILLION bottles a year!! They won't use recycled plastics because they think their customers won't like it. Time to make these bottlers assume cradle to grave responsibility for this blight on the planet. In the time it takes to read this thread about a million single-use plastic bottles have been produced. It's time we required these manufacturers to assume cradle to grave responsibility for their products.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/a-million-a-minute-worlds-plastic-bottle-binge-as-dangerous-as-climate-change
     
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  2. EatenByLimestone

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    How do you suppose that should be done?
     
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  3. Hasufel

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    I have one word for you, @begreen , just one word - plastics! ;)

    On a more serious note, I understand that much of the growth in demand is in developing countries where I suspect the reduce/reuse/recycle ethic hasn't yet been widely embraced. Perhaps there's a way to monetize waste plastics, like you do in some states here with deposits on glass bottles? Not sure how feasible this would be, though. Overall the economics of recycling just aren't very favorable, especially with oil remaining fairly cheap. Our trash service used to weigh our recyclables and give us credits toward discounts at local merchants, but that ended because the market for recyclable materials bottomed out after the 2008 financial crisis.
     
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  4. Squirrel

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    As with most pollution problems this is easily solved, quit buying the stuff.

    Companies are very good at telling us we need to buy stuff, no government will ever close down a money making, job producing bussiness.

    Be like the humming bird taking a beak full of water to put out a forest fire..."It ain't much, but it's all I can do right now"
     
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  5. begreen

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    Fortunately many locations including some third world economies are taking leadership here. Single use plastics have been banned outright in Rwanda and in Delhi India they banned them in the city as of last January. In a lot of Europe there are cradle to grave laws for manufacturers that make them much more responsible and paying for the recycling programs. Out of these laws comes innovation.

    A plant based plastic like resin has been developed that makes great plastic-like bags. They are tough and durable, yet break down in sunlight in 240 days instead of hundreds of years. In the ground or a landfill they take about 2-3 yrs, but they still break down into simple elements with no plastic residue. Even better the resin can be employed in existing bag manufacturing equipment without retooling. A Polish wheat grower has developed disposable plates, bowls and cutlery made out of wheat bran. They are tough yet break down completely in 30 days. Point being that we can and should come up with alternatives to fossil fuel based, single-use plastics. In the meantime let the bottling companies pay for the disposal, landfill and recycling costs.
     
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  6. Where2

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    Maine has $0.05 deposits on most plastic bottles and aluminum cans, paid by the consumer at the point of retail sale, and refunded at the point of recycling (redemption center). I still find them littering the local roadways when I walk the 3/4 mile along the paved county road into town from my farm. To someone like me who already recycles, finding a few extra recyclables when I walk just helps me pay off the farm mortgage faster. I usually also manage to find a bag to collect them in, and it beautifies the neighborhood. It's ironic that the same neighbors who are destroying the look of their own neighborhood are in a way helping me pay a small fraction of my mortgage.

    In South Florida, our local municipal waste facility still manages to make annual payments to each municipality based on the weight of recyclables they collect and deliver to the solid waste facility. Part of the value to the recyclables is that they do not add to the solid waste stream if they are recycled properly. Every pound of solid waste properly disposed of costs $$$, whether the disposal method is incineration or burying it in a landfill.

    There are plenty of alternatives to purely petroleum based plastics. One of the large aquatic theme parks has been using plant based plastic utensils for more than seven years. If you find a drinking straw in an aquatic theme park, it's usually a paper straw, because having an animal ingest a plastic straw is expensive.
     
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  7. EatenByLimestone

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    The waste issue will not be solved until the cost to throw the bag of trash away becomes much more expensive. That will drive change back up the chain to reduce packaging and waste. Less packaging means less goes to the landfills. On the other side of that, there are projects ongoing to use gasification of landfill waste to generate electricity.
     
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  8. begreen

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    Yes, our county landfill is capturing methane, though landfilled plastics don't generate methane. They degrade slowly for centuries. The bottling companies have gotten away with this plastic explosion because they assume no costs for it, only savings (as compare to glass). They need to assume cradle to grave responsibility and costs instead of putting it on the taxpayer's shoulders.
     
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  9. EatenByLimestone

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    It's far beyond methane collection. It's at the drop a full bag of trash on the feed belt and ash and kwh come out the other end. So far 2 tons of trash equal 60kw. I'm sure a lot of heat must be used to dry the fuel.
     
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  10. begreen

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    That is another solution, but with a serious problem - dioxin. The areas surrounding waste gasification plants are reporting elevated dioxin levels. Dioxin is a very serious toxin. I like the idea, but this problem concerns me.
     
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  11. jatoxico

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    Our area supermarket pretty successfully converted our community to using reusable shopping bags so we get far fewer than we used to. The county is considering banning them altogether. Many, many people are ready to voluntarily make changes to make improvements if provided with a reasonable alternative even if it costs slightly more.

    You periodically hear of the promise of biodegradable plastics, they can't get here soon enough IMO.
     
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  12. woodgeek

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    Meh. Most plastic recycling is a drain on the recycling program budget (because it doesn't pay like metals do). There is PLENTY of room to inexpensively landfill all this plastic for a long time, removing these hydrocarbons from the biosphere for at least centuries, and in a modern landfill this stuff is inert and does no harm.

    The plastics in the sea issue deserves to be studied, but frankly, is more than a bit overblown. The ocean 'garbage patch' conjures up an idea of a mass of garbage that you could almost walk on, or at least see with your eyes. When you dig into the technical literature, you find figures that list microscopic particles per square meter or cubic meter that would not be detectable to the naked eye...or something you could collect easily with a net. This does end up in the food chain...and we should know more about what happens then. IT seems that a lot of it ends up in marine sediment. Of course, floating litter DOES end up on beaches....its a natural concentration system....not evidence that the sea is covered in litter.

    A reasonable solution, as upthread, is a deposit on plastic bottles that gets them returned at a high rate, followed by their landfilling en masse or burning them (if that pays ok). And heavy fines (and public awareness campaigns) in coastal areas for plastic littering. Done.
     
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  13. WoodyIsGoody

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    Buried plastic does not removing anything from the biosphere. The fossil fuel it came from was already removed from the biosphere and if the plastic is recycled it's still not contributing to global warming. Burying it does delay the contribution to GW but you can't remove something that wasn't there to begin with. Garbage is incinerated in many areas and incinerating plastic does contribute to global warming.
     
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  14. begreen

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    True the giant gyres are mostly microplastics, though they appear to be far from benign. There are several. The great Pacific gyre is huge, twice the size of Texas and about 9ft deep. It's like a big soup. There are over 7 tons of plastics floating in it and it is expected to double within the next 10 years. And this is only one of 5 large patches. There is six times more plastic than there is plankton, the food of the ocean. This is not a trivial problem.
    Then there is the case of Henderson Island which is covered with about 38 million pieces of plastic. This island is about as remote as you can get, yet it is accumulating large plastics at the rate of about 13,000 pieces per day.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/15/38-million-pieces-of-plastic-waste-found-on-uninhabited-south-pacific-island
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/05/henderson-island-pitcairn-trash-plastic-pollution/
    Remember that single-use plastics is a very recent phenomenon. The rate they are accumulating is alarming to say the least.

    The doubling factor alone should set off worldwide alarms. We are killing our oceans with acidifcation, overfishing and plastics and dsiregarding that the oceans sustain terrestrial life. What happens when the ocean is dead? It's not a pretty picture for humanity.
    http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-commentary/commentary/if-the-ocean-dies-we-all-die.html
     
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  15. woodgeek

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    Fair enough. I should be more precise.

    I guess I am hung up on ENERGY and the damage that energy use (which is still mostly fossils) does to the planet first and foremost through AGW and ocean acidification. Those social-media driven campaigns to ban plastic grocery bags....studies have shown that the alternatives use more resources and energy (making a heavy cloth bag, or a bunch of heavy paper bags) than the plastic bags do. Same for Styro cups versus (often doubled) paper cups. The latest social media campaign (just sent me by my well-intentioned SIL) is that we will save the world and the oceans, if we all carry a fork in our back pockets, and never use a plastic utensil again.

    How do we feel about switching plastic packaging for paper packaging that uses more energy for manufacturing, shipping (weight), land use (making virgin paper), water (ditto), and which then gets landfilled anyway (because it is greasy) or uses even more energy to wash (with hot water pre-recycling). And all that fossil energy makes AGW and ocean acidification worse on balance...versus making a thin plastic wrapper, and then landfilling it?

    I would really love it if campaigns like this actually had an impact, but in my neighborhood I am surrounded by wealthy people driving their Escalades and Land Rovers to the Whole Paycheck store two towns over, canvas bags in tow, because they have this ineffable feeling that buying organic food (with less efficient production versus energy or land use than conventional), and putting it in a canvas bag, and saving 5 grams of plastic use, will save the world and the oceans. The problem is that these people are eagerly consuming 'feel good' misinformation while they are driving the earth and the biosphere off a cliff with their fossil energy habit.

    Every time we spur someone to positive action with one of these campaigns....we REDUCE their interest and willingness and desire to do something else, that might have had an actual impact, but might have required a little thought (like shopping closer to home), or adjustment (to a smaller vehicle), or upfront money (like putting solar on their roof). Nope, these people will recycle earnestly, buy some organic cotton canvas bags online, now carry a never-used fork in the bottom of their purse, and will sleep like babies knowing that they have done their part and are part of the solution!
     
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  16. begreen

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    Forgive me for being skeptical but this sounds like a well-crafted plastics/oil industry response that cherry picks data to make a point. Did they tally the total real costs of manufacturing, packaging, uses and landfilling of the plastic bags? Were environmental costs included for the oil extraction, transport, refining, pollution before the plastic resins were created? Did they cover the even greater environmental cost of mining coal and extraction of benzene or the effect of CFCs that were used? I suspect one can be reasonably certain that they did not include any costs for cleaning up this crap. I find it very hard to believe that my wife's 20+ year old canvas shopping bags that are used twice a week took more energy than the >2000 trips these shopping bags have seen. They will most likely outlast us, yet when and if they are landfilled they will break down quickly. Styrofoam and plastics will take ~500yrs to breakdown. Average landfill these days is about 25-30% styrofoam.

    The studies I have read seem to rely on burning plastics to tip the scales in plastics favor. Incineration is not a popular, or perhaps wise option. The dioxin emissions from these incineration plants create some serious community health issues that are now just coming to light. Toxicity of these products both to workers in mfg and leaching is often not reported. That said there are steps the paper industry could also take to reduce environmental effects starting with eliminating bleaching.
     
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  17. woodgeek

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    I appreciate your skepticism and the fact that you have used your canvas bags 2000 times...plenty of people 'forget' their bags, toss them when they get skeezy and use heavy paper bags instead. And paper production also makes dioxin (but probably not brown paper?)

    Still not clear to me what problems plastic in a landfill creates. The oil to make the plastic bags for your grocery run are a fraction of what folks use to drive to the store and back. There is a reason they cost pennies....it doesn't take much oil to make each bag.

    If you don't like oil (I don't either) go get an EV and really stick it to those guys. Oh yeah...you already DID! :)
     
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  18. begreen

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    The most definitive comparison report I could find was a detailed 149 page tome comparing plastic cups and plates vs paper products. They did a decent job, but the bias (and customer) was clearly toward the plastics industry. Not noted were the products I mentioned like benzene, ethylene that are required for production of the CFCs, nor health care costs associated. Landfill costs were easily dismissed and buried in the report as well. No mention of river and marine pollution.

    Can we do better, yes. And I think the best solution will not be petroleum based. In the meantime we will continue to use our trusty grocery bags, stainless water bottles, and bring our own cups for coffee wherever possible. (Did that for over 20 yrs on the job)
     
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  19. woodgeek

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    Ok. I found out that making a disposable HDPE plastic grocery bag uses 0.5 MJ of oil. This works out to 1 gallon of gasoline equalling at least 250 disposable bags. At my family usage of about 25 bags/week, we are in for about 5 gallons of gasoline usage per year. So by switching I can reduce my oil footprint by that amount minus the amount of oil required to make the reusable bag.

    Litter (onshore and marine) of said bags is a whole other issue, indeed.

    And whats wrong with ethylene again?
     
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  20. begreen

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    Low levels of ethylene are supposed to be ok. Some fruit generates this gas when ripening. But repeated exposure to ethylene oxide is a serious health issue and one to be concerned about when working in the styrofoam industry. Robotics are reducing this exposure.Styrene leaching from hot containers (especially when microwaved) is also considered a health threat.
     
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  21. Sprinter

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    Maybe someone can steer me right, but it seems like I just read somewhere that our newer ethylene deposits extracted from shale and maybe fracking found in large amounts are being used in "mass quantities" (from SNL skits lol) to make plastics that are largely exported now. Some feel that this is a boon to US economy. Others may feel different.

    I'll confess that this is not a subject I follow closely, but others here clearly do. So this is just to see what the others here know about it. Been a long time since I actually studied this stuff and my Chem E friends are no longer close.
     
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  22. Sprinter

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    Nice idea, good luck... Just being silly, but if someone wants something, they're going to buy it. I hate to say it (really), but Americans seem to be the worst example, unless an industry can sell it cheaper to someone else, then it's "out of sight, out of mind" and nobody seems to care then.
     
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  23. maple1

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    25 bags a week?

    Holy heaps of food Batman - how big is your family?


    :)
     
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  24. woodgeek

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    I had the same question....

    The shale 'gas' and shale 'oil' deposits are all on a continuum. In fact, most of the 'oil' deposits give out more gas than oil. Given the low price of NG these days, it was the oil producers who had more gassy and less oily wells that went belly up when the oil price collapsed. I think you may be confusing ethylene with ethane, however. A lot of these wells have some heavier (or 'wetter') contents like ethane and propane.

    I looked it up....the first process decades ago for making HDPE was based one ethane and ethylene, but it seems that the industry actually does make the feedstocks from lighter oil fractions now. So they are indeed made from oil, not NG or ethane.
     
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  25. woodgeek

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    I was being generous, and have two teens in the house....and adding in bags for 'sundries' other than groceries.

    It might be closer to 15 a week and 3 gallons of oil/yr.

    EDIT: stated some other 'weighs':

    Plastic production is comparable to the mass of humans on the planet: 0.3 billion metric tons/year
    But oil production can be easily estimated to be about 5 billion tons/year,

    or 16x greater.

    Consistent with other estimates that less than 10% of oil globally goes to making materials, the rest is burned.

    Country with highest per capita rate of burning that oil: the US of A. No other large country comes anywhere close. The number works out to be about 900 gallons of oil per year for every man, women and child, and half of that is just for powering our driving habits in our super-sized 20% energy efficiency car fleet.

    My family's outsized plastic grocery bag habit: 3 gallons/3600 gallons typical family of 4 = 0.083% of our 'share' of US oil demand.
     
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