What Happens to All That Plastic?

by |January 31, 2012

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[…] Columbia University, and a freelance environmental writer.  Please check out my latest blog post, What Happens to All That Plastic?  In 2011, Columbia University/Earth Institute’s State of the Planet was named an official […]

Angela Davis
Guest
Angela Davis

Fantastic, informative!! Thank you!

Nickolas Themelis
Guest

Excellent report that covers nearly all bases. “Plastics”, in overall, is the most versatile and useful material invented by humans but this versatility is due to thousands of compounds of different compositions and properties. This is the main reason why recyclin of plastics to materials has been limited, as reported by Renee. What is the alternative? Recovery of the energy content of plastics, either in the form of syngas or “synoil” or as electrical and thermal energy. All of these routes require thermal treatment of plastic wastes. Well meaning people who oppose thermal treatment forget that “the gift of fire”… Read more »

Donna
Guest

It’s a shame we have become such a disposable society, whatever happened to using a drink bottle and filling it up with water, instead of wasting our earth’s precious resources using plastic water bottles?

Trex
Guest
Trex

Wow, thats really cool. Talk about reusing recycling a product. Im sure there are a number of cost efficient ways to reclaim the plastic, and turn it [reused plastic] into anything you want. I think that subsidies from the government that help these types of programs just end up hurting the program in the end. The subsidies keep the costs high. Thats what i think.

Gertrude Jones, The Southern Company
Guest
Gertrude Jones, The Southern Company

We are so used to taking and using plastic for granted without thinking of the detrimental effects that it has on society and the environment. It’s great to see that we have found ways to reduce pollution and reuse plastics. We know the many benefits of recycling something old to make something new, so we encourage the idea of reusing and recycling, instead of replacing.

Peter Hunt
Guest
Peter Hunt

Plastic can be recycled into diesel. It can be used to produce oil. It can be used to construct roads. Plastic is poison for our environment. It cannot be degraded by environment in natural way that’s by recycling the only way to get rid of it.

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[…] it.  Plastic takes one thousand years to bio-degrade in the landfill and out of the 33.6 million plastics a year that are discarded only 6.5 % get recycled.  Step three: Start a petition asking  my local […]

Michael Rabb Newton
Guest
Michael Rabb Newton

We wants to dedicated ourselves to creating safe alternatives to plastic products. BPA-free and biodegradable plastics can only address some of the concern — and it’s far from a big-picture solution. Glass, stainless steel, bamboo, and other materials are just as effective and don’t have any of plastics’ inherent dangers. By selecting these alternatives, you’re making healthier choices for your family and our planet.

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[…] and in the ocean.  There is no definitive number on how much plastic is floating in the ocean.  The State of the Planet blog from Earth Institute at Columbia University puts the number in the hundreds of million of tons, […]

Tim Dunn
Guest

And what of the energy and CO2 costs of transporting plastic, which is more or less evenly distributed everywhere people are? I can’t think of any fuel that has to gathered in small increments from almost everywhere and taken to these plants. There was a huge study in Germany that was published last year, that looked at all of these issues, and they found that virgin plastic bags were superior to bioplastic and recycled plastic bags, in terms of environmental impact. With a little of an additive, plastic could be made biodegradable in landfills – which would provide methane. 2/3… Read more »

Mikel
Guest
Mikel

Great research and article. Glad to see you cover this topic. More people need to keep in mind the plastic waste they create once its ‘out of sight’.

Brittany Heisenheffer
Guest
Brittany Heisenheffer

Love this article. Great reality check for everyone.

Adrien
Guest

I think that anything that keeps waste out of landfill is a blessing!
We are in the construction industry, and are faced with waste everyday. We take great pride in re purposing whatever we can.
This is a great article, thank you!

D Weiss
Guest

A ban on plastic shopping bags is like “spitting in the wind”. Let’s all have a reality check folks! I am all for cleaning up our environment. However, singling out one source of plastic waste is absurd! All of you out there that are standing on your “soapboxes” calling for the ban of plastic shopping bags have no clue what effect that would have on the hard working Americans that produce these bags including the pyramid of suppliers and companies that support the manufacturers. The next time you are at the checkout line or strolling through the aisles of your… Read more »

Edgar L Allen
Guest
Edgar L Allen

Has anyone thought of taking all this plastic and dump it into a volcano? I believe the volcano heat will take care of all this plastic and we won’t have to look back and worry about where to put this plastic. At the same time we could be creating a new job and pay someone to take this plastic to a volcano. After all, the volcano put this substance back the earth.
Thanks

Jane
Guest
Jane

I agree with Edgar Allen….Hm what if we do put all the plastic in a volcano? Will it really work? Is it safe enough? Is it realistic enough? What if people accidentally fall in there ?

david gbadebo
Guest
david gbadebo

i think mixture of plastic solution with cement can be use for the flooring of a water area also,but their is need to find out more.

Nicolas Morris
Guest
Nicolas Morris

Pull the other one its got bells on.. I do not believe this HW about plastic burning clean of an instant,I see a bunch of greedy industrialists drooling at the profit lines available ,and their pet “scientists” calmly adjusting “allowable limits” as our atmosphere literally goes up in smoke” “Power plants specially designed to use plastics as fuel could theoretically produce 1.8 MWh of electricity per ton of waste plastic. Pennsylvania-based EcoClean Burners, Inc. burns plastic pellets (made from unrecycled waste plastic) to create energy for industrial boilers and companies that use steam during the manufacturing process. Based on technology… Read more »

Lynda Blanton
Guest
Lynda Blanton

The real problem is that in over 2 years only around 20 people have bothered to comment on this article. Chances are that the number of people that actually care are in too short of numbers. I found it to be an excellent and informative look at a topic that sadly we will look back on and think why didn’t we do something about it then when we had the chance. But as long as everyone has their latest reality show, their newest app, their whatever it is to distract them from what’s really going on around them then the… Read more »

Beston
Guest

Kinds of plastic waste has been a problem in our dailylife. Thanks to the technology development, now we have the ability to reuse or transfer it other useful products for us. One of popular tech is pyrolysis. That will need all kinds of machines to make a pyrolysis plant to make it possible. It cost a lot, but it is still profitable. Hope gov can spend more money to support this type of enterprise.

Tommy Keirnan
Guest
Tommy Keirnan

I completely agree with Lynda. At the same time, I think that almost everyone agrees that it is a problem and will likely throw money at it. I know for a fact, that I’d like to work day in and day out in solving this huge problem but I don’t know where to start. If someone has enough money to fund an integral plastic waste management/recycling program please let me know.

redollarblog
Guest

The key to global recycling success are crowds: we have to introduce them that recycling make really sense. I often speak to people and the majority thinks that waste separation doesn’t pay off. They think that all the garbage goes together again, finally. That’s a big misconception. In the US, separated trash never goes together again. KEEP ON SEPARATING! AND DON’T BUY CANS AND PLASTIC BOTTLES FOR ONE TIME USE!!!

Camila B.
Guest

Plastic is forever! The plastic is something which should be recycled because it could lasts really forever. We should learn from the zero waste people how to reduce the plastic waste to minimum.

Plastic Sheeting
Guest

Recycling plastic bags and film packaging is important due to the high cost of disposing of it and its impacts on the environment when it becomes litter.

zoe
Guest
zoe

I thought that this article was amazing, lost of verry important informatio. So from now on we should only reuse shopping bags. Now we just need to tell the rest of the world that

Sachin Deshmukh
Guest

sir,
I am making a technique, in which waste plastic can be convert in use able products. according to my opinion we can be solve plastic pollution problem in the world. but i don’t know hot to come in form of world . This machine work in golden principal of waste plastic material. so what i can do? Near me has technique but not way but i know it is need of feature.

Mike C
Guest

We are taking that would be buried plastic and turning it into picnic tables, park benches, and landscaping timbers.. These natural products have been problem areas in the past as wood rots / decays, metal rusts, but since plastics lasts for a very long time, are impervious to moisture and insects, it is a 2-fold effect when these products are put to use in their new home. No more rot, no more landfill!

Antonia@AOK
Guest

> Why don’t homes/businesses/collection points have small machines that can melt/mould our plastics down to a bricks for collection by our local councils? That way it isn’t in a form that can blow away or go down the gutter and out to sea. It would also make it easier to store and easier for companies to reuse who have the machinery to recycle it.

Jerry Stevenson
Guest
Jerry Stevenson

Let’s take a look at bioplastics as an alternative to oil based products. Henry Ford used soy beans once in making automobile parts. We need to look out side of the box. We depend too much on oil which is not an unlimited resource.

SaiefC
Guest
SaiefC

Has anyone ever worked with reducing bio waste? What have you done? What did you face? How did it turn out?

I want to learn more about any plastic containers (all types) that get generated from bio-laboratories and how they were recycled by following the current OSHA guidelines.

Theresa Tenerelli
Guest

This is very very informative . Gives a lot of clarity on what happens to plastic that is recycled and thrown into landfills . I applaud the companies that are converting the catastrophic amount of plastic waste on our planet. However, a few points that should emphasized: -plastic is mainly composed of petroleum -petroleum is harmful to the environment when extracted – i.e. Oil spills , fracking etc. -reducing and ultimately eliminating petroleum based plastics should be the goal – there are so many other sustainably sourced materials that can make plastic, focus on those -even if the plastic we… Read more »

Limengyao
Guest

A meaningful article. Waste plastic can be seen everywhere, it pollutes our planet. Recycling plastic is the best solution.

JD
Guest
JD

If only 6.5% of plastic is recycled, it follows that filling our recycling bins full of the stuff is a net negative to the environment if one considers (1) the fossil fuel burned picking it up and (2) the energy need to convert the 6.5% discarded plastic that is actually recycled into something useful. Public policy focuses way too much on recycle, when the focus should be reduce. Make recycling pick-ups once or twice a month only for only cans and paper to save the useless burning of gasoline, and put plastic and glass directly into landfill where almost all… Read more »

Lori
Guest
Lori

It seems the “obvious ” answer is too scary. The truth is every Gov does projections on pop growth, education needs, roads traffic, and recycling. So how long can we sustain this Earth with all this garbage and low recycling abilities….? A few decades, a hundred years? Apparently the Governments know something is going to happen in the next 50 years that makes RECYCLING MOOT. There is an Extinction event that will occur that will make the need to recycle unnecessary. Our INFLATION for the last 35 years points to our Economics crashing and currency losing value in the same… Read more »

adrian mctiernan
Guest
adrian mctiernan

I lived in Leicester – there is a waste burning plant there which burns rubbish, and uses it to heat local nearby blocks of flats. Free heating for pensioners and so forth. I has been in operation for some 30 years, and is a really good idea. What about using this idea more widely?

Jayman
Guest
Jayman

What about reducing the types of plastic allowed to be used for throw away packaging. Restricting packaging to, lets say 2 types that have good recyclable qualities, and would be easier to sort than 7. Making this cheap, easier to sort, raw material available for re-use would be more attractive for companies who manufacture packaging, and for the companies who buy it.

A. Omoose
Guest
A. Omoose

I walk the shores of the ocean and the marshes here in New England daily. The amounts of plastic trash I see is unsettling. I am glad to learn from this article that there are positive options being developed to process and use these ‘disposable’ plastic resources. Humanity – suicide by plastics – I hope not!

S
Guest
S

Guys thing about it animals are dying because of our world littering . When you look at your product that your buying please check if it has a recycling sign . We should all be recycling and not wasting. Think about it . We are united and we should know better .I am 11 year old and this is a topic we are learning about in School.

Arnion Zhang
Guest

When plastic was first invented, it was hailed as a miracle material. After all, it has thousands of uses from plastic bottles to the modern-day computers and smart phones. It is available at a cheap price and there are many different types of plastics with a variety of uses. However, plastic is effectively non-biodegradable which means that natural processes may take thousands of years to degrade plastic products.

For me, I think pyrolysis of plastic to fuel oil is great manner to recycle waste plastic.

Sunil Pawar
Guest
Sunil Pawar

How much oil may be get after 2 ton plastic melted.How can increase recovery of oil.
Plse suggest

Susie Environment
Guest
Susie Environment

Burning plastic produces toxic emissions. Some European countries claim they are very careful to control these emissions, but not everyone would be so careful. Before allowing waste to energy incineration, the US needs to have national incineration standards that are much stricter. If not, then poor people living near incinerators would incur the considerable health risk.

A.H
Guest

Shouldn’t manufacturers then limit the amount of plastic they produced?

sophiepam
Guest
sophiepam

I work in a big box store in Central Oregon and it amazes me how people rely on plastic bags as they are too cheap to buy biodegradable ones at a health store. I always ask and they love plastic for their garbage or pet waste. I will love the day when Oregon gets rid of plastic bags. They rip, they tear,the handles break. We have really thin ones that we use in nour store. I love the biodegradeable ones but are they really is the question. A lot of people do bring reuseable and I thank them. It is… Read more »

Eco Soph
Guest
Eco Soph

The world must scale down on renovations. This is unnecessary landfill.

Braydon Nicholas
Guest
Braydon Nicholas

I think that we should just make it to where the plastic has to be bio-degradable for it to be sold to the general public

Thelma L Spotten
Guest
Thelma L Spotten

I am confused. If we can not recycle take out containers and should not put them into the landfill to languish forever, what can we do with them?

Breanne
Guest
Breanne

@Thelma Try bringing your own jar or tupperware to the restaurant or take out place, you might be surprised how many are willing to work with you and skip the packaging if you come prepared with your own!

David
Guest

The whole world needs to consider this “Plastic” on the serious note. I would suggest everyone to start generating awareness on a small level so that we can avoid using plastic and save our planet.

David Pennington
Guest
David Pennington

I’m highly sceptical about the claimed successes of recycling from political commentators and suspect that the problem is merely being exported to China and the Far East.
https://theecologist.org/2017/mar/13/uk-exporting-67-plastic-waste-amid-illegal-practices-warnings

The tide of ocean bourne plastics originating from these country’s is most likely our waste. Illegal practices will be exasperated by corruption at home and the low price of oil.

Get real world and tackle the realities. The green lobby in particular needs to investigate, deliver the truth and shame our own Governments and institutions to bring pollution under control.