Today’s post aim to give a broad overview on the 4 main method of plastic disposal. They are: Landfilling, Incineration, Recycling and Biodegradation.
To be frank, all plastics can be disposed in landfills. However, landfilling is considered highly wasteful as it requires a vast amount of space and the chemical constituents and energy contained in plastic is lost (wasted) in this disposal route. In 2008, 29.2 million tons of plastic was disposed in landfills in the United States. In countries where landfills are poorly managed, plastic wastes can be easily blown into waterways or carried out to sea by flood water. In addition, when plastics decompose in landfills, they may leak pollutants (phthalates and bisphenol A) into the soil and surrounding environment.
Plastics are derived from petroleum or natural gas, giving them a stored energy value higher than any other material commonly found in the waste stream. Incineration return some of the energy from plastic production. In fact, one pound of plastic can generate as much energy as Wyoming coal and almost as much energy as fuel oil.
However, plastic incineration tends to cause negative environment and health effects as hazardous substances may be released into the atmosphere in the process. For example, PVC and halogenated additives are mixed into plastic waste and their incineration leads to release of dioxins and polychlorinated-biphenyls into the environment.
Many plastics can be recycled. and the materials recovered can be given a second-life. However, this method is not fully utilized, due to difficulties with the collection and sorting of plastic waste. Many developing (and even some developed countries) have poor waste management facilities which often result in plastics (and other waste) being recklessly disposed into rivers and waterbodies. Even though recycling is the most effective way to deal with plastic waste, its effectiveness is highly depended on public awareness, economic viability, and the implementation of public infrastructures to make recycling more efficient (recycling bins, specialized waste collecting trucks).
- Biodegradable Plastics
Biodegradable plastics are plastics that decompose by the action of living organisms. Biodegradable plastics have the potential to solve a number of waste-management issues, especially for disposable packaging that cannot be easily separated from organic waste. However, biodegradable plastics are not without controversy. Even though biodegradable plastics can be completely metabolize by organisms into carbon dioxide and water, there are allegations that Oxo-Biodegradable plastics may release metals into the environment.
In subsequent posts, we’ll explore the 4 different methods in greater depth. Cya!
Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R., & Kosior, E. (2009). Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2115-2126.
North, E. J., & Halden, R. U. (2013). Plastics and Environmental Health: The Road Ahead. Reviews on Environmental Health, 28(1), 1–8. http://doi.org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1515/reveh-2012-0030