Killing our planet with plastics

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,063
South Puget Sound, WA
Folks in England were stunned and dismayed when they found out that testing of local river waters had much higher concentrations of microplastics than the previous hot spot, South Korean beaches. Textiles were the suspected cause.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
5,601
Downeast Maine
is there any other cheap replacement for plastic ?
Depends, plastic has a wide range of applications. In most cases it is used due to cost. If all of the plastics were replaced in textiles I would imagine clothing to cost four times as much, or even more.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,115
Northern NH
is there any other cheap replacement for plastic ?
There are bioplastics made out of wood pulp derivatives, they tend to break down in the environment easier. Hard to beat the price of fossil based plastics. Oil companies realize that the markets for fossil fuels could decline so they are investing in making more plastics. BTW plastics can be readly converted back to transportation fuels it just cost more than drilling a hole in the ground. Throw in carbon taxes and the plastics issues changes radically.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,063
South Puget Sound, WA
There's a firm in Portland OR that is turning plastics into fuel right now. Their preference is to turn it back into plastics, but as peak noted, the price of raw plastic has to go up a bit. Actually, I've read that it would not need to go up a whole lot for re-refined plastics to be competitive. The other part of that puzzle is that it could help greatly if there were several more regional plastics pre-processing centers that would gather plastics from the smaller municipalities in the region and prep them for shipment to the major chemical refineries equipped to refine the recycled plastics. WA state is working on the piece of the problem.
 

PaulOinMA

Minister of Fire
Oct 20, 2018
910
MA
Here's a very interesting discussion about recycling I read yesterday.

 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,115
Northern NH
The small town next to me has recycling wardens. New comers no doubt will be accompanied to the bins at the transfer station by one of the "wardens" to ensure the new comer is following the rules. Eventually the wardens learn to trust the repeat visitors. They also have pay per bag so the temptation by some is to try to recycle too much. Most of the towns nearby do pickup and across the board renters and apartments are the biggest problem, seems to be the lower the economic status of the tenants the worst their recycling habits are.
 

gggvan

Member
Dec 6, 2012
99
Wait...does any country take recyclables anymore? I heard China cut us off for being messy. I don't think we're paying folks in this country to clean food and other muck off recyclables.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,063
South Puget Sound, WA
Wait...does any country take recyclables anymore? I heard China cut us off for being messy. I don't think we're paying folks in this country to clean food and other muck off recyclables.
It's a changing scenario. #1&2 plastics are quite recyclable (or downcyclable) and therefor have value and processors in the US and Canada. #6 is also pretty recyclable. The others now are mostly landfilled or incinerated if they are not turned into fuel. Quantities are still being shipped to third world countries, but that is a messy process that is being curtailed in many countries because of the rampant pollution created.

This is a powerful movie on The Story of Plastics. Worth a watch to understand the issues. This is an introductory trailer:


 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,063
South Puget Sound, WA
is there any other cheap replacement for plastic ?
That is a somewhat fallacious question. Plastics are cheap to make, and often offer cheap packaging solutions, but the actual costs of plastics to the taxpayer, the environment, and life itself are now becoming huge. Remember that the ubiquity of plastics in packaging is a new problem, only gaining steam for the past 30 yrs. But the results are now ever-present in the environment and the tolls are getting high. We are all breathing, eating and drinking plastics as they break down into micro and nanoparticles.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,063
South Puget Sound, WA
Very sad news today. A new report says that there is 10 times the volume of plastics in the Atlantic than previously thought. And this is based on collection 4 yrs ago. This is madness. It will continue until there is a cost to the producers for the cleanup and recycling.

 

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
3,984
SW Virginia

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
3,984
SW Virginia

Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
1,130
Palmyra, WI
But how many barges per minute to support it?
Out of 1350 world rivers, 10 supply 95% of the ocean waste, 8 of which are in Asia.

 

Seasoned Oak

Minister of Fire
Oct 17, 2008
7,210
Eastern Central PA
Iv noticed that single use plactic makes up an ever larger share of my waste stream. It seems to be at about 80% of it. Every delivered package has a boatload of plactic packing material. Mostly those air filled bubble trains. Some incentive needs to be created to incentivized companies to develop bio degradable packaging. Gathering up all this stuff after its already floating in the ocean or wrapped around a seals neck or filling up a whales stomach is just NOT practical.
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,115
Northern NH
There are many alternatives out there, they just cost more. The starch based packing peanuts are an example, they work just as well as foam if kept dry but they cost more. Throw them in a bucket of water and they dissolve into a very biodegradable liquid. Cellophane is made of highly processed wood fiber, it biodegrades like toilet paper. IMO it comes down to unless some industry is required to deal with its ultimate disposal, then they go with cheapest stuff they can get and that is usually made with petroleum. University of Maine has been developing replacements for plastic precursors for many years. Its not question of if its economics, bio based products usually cost more than virgin products made with cheap fossil. Add a carbon tax and the rules change.

I have seen several studies that show that a vast majority of plastic entering the oceans comes from third world countries that basically dump their trash in major river systems. There is no attempt or interest in treatment. Ocean plastics is predominantly third world driven issue.

When I worked for a papermill we had a wastewater treatment plant. We used a lot of clays and fillers to make our paper. it ended up in our treatment plant and would be hauled to landfill. We had to mine gravel to mix with it so that it was stable enough to pile. Our corporate research group got some samples and discovered that kitty litter was made with clays and fillers. They could easily use our sludge for making kitty litter and there was obviously a ready market. It looked great but our corporate lawyers would not sign off it in case of future liability for the kitty litter in case there might be something in the sludge that was deemed hazardous in the future.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
5,601
Downeast Maine
There are many alternatives out there, they just cost more. The starch based packing peanuts are an example, they work just as well as foam if kept dry but they cost more. Throw them in a bucket of water and they dissolve into a very biodegradable liquid. Cellophane is made of highly processed wood fiber, it biodegrades like toilet paper. IMO it comes down to unless some industry is required to deal with its ultimate disposal, then they go with cheapest stuff they can get and that is usually made with petroleum. University of Maine has been developing replacements for plastic precursors for many years. Its not question of if its economics, bio based products usually cost more than virgin products made with cheap fossil. Add a carbon tax and the rules change.

I have seen several studies that show that a vast majority of plastic entering the oceans comes from third world countries that basically dump their trash in major river systems. There is no attempt or interest in treatment. Ocean plastics is predominantly third world driven issue.

When I worked for a papermill we had a wastewater treatment plant. We used a lot of clays and fillers to make our paper. it ended up in our treatment plant and would be hauled to landfill. We had to mine gravel to mix with it so that it was stable enough to pile. Our corporate research group got some samples and discovered that kitty litter was made with clays and fillers. They could easily use our sludge for making kitty litter and there was obviously a ready market. It looked great but our corporate lawyers would not sign off it in case of future liability for the kitty litter in case there might be something in the sludge that was deemed hazardous in the future.
I didn't know about the packing peanuts and cellophane coming from environmentally friendly base stock. A few years ago I worked in a shipping and receiving department and did notice the packing peanuts dissolve in water, but didn't know why. Most are now using the foam S shaped packing material instead of the "peanut" type, and they are a mess.
 

EatenByLimestone

Minister of Fire
Eh, I just throw it all in the Outdoor Wood Burner. Problem solved!


(I really don't, and I dont have an OWB, but it was really fun to write that sentence!)
 

Seasoned Oak

Minister of Fire
Oct 17, 2008
7,210
Eastern Central PA
Eh, I just throw it all in the Outdoor Wood Burner. Problem solved!
(I really don't, and I dont have an OWB, but it was really fun to write that sentence!)
The sad part is im sure there are too many that do. While traveling through some third world countries i noticed they burn everything, including a huge amount of plastic the majority being single use water bottles. Much of the rest ends up in the canals to be flushed out into the ocean with the next rain. Its a huge problem for the air the land and the sea.
.
 

EatenByLimestone

Minister of Fire
I honestly see gasification and incineration to be the only long term solution to the stuff we can't reuse or recycle. Then there's the closed town landfills full of metals and other useful materials. Itll be mined someday, but the foods and papers... itll need to be burned.
 

woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,322
SE PA
A solid article about 'Peak Plastic' by David Roberts:


Bottom line: Oil majors are assuming 4% growth in plastics as far as the eye can see, and still plan on building production. This is a desperate move on their part to find some growing market for their product. The more likely scenario (for climate reasons) is a peak and slow decline, with reduced demand, substitution with paper products and modestly increased recycling.
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,063
South Puget Sound, WA
I'd feel better if they can develop cellulosic plastics derived from plant waste like rice straw, cane stalks, miscanthus, or hemp. The forests are already under a lot of pressure to use wood for more construction, biomass fuel, packing, etc.