A woman, in far background, walks past a burning heap of garbage that like several others have piled up for more than a week, in Naples, southern Italy, Monday May 21, 2007. Residents have been setting uncollected garbage on fire adding potentially toxic smoke to the area's stinky air, officials said Monday. Mounds of trash have reached as high as 3 meters (10 feet) in some places and blocked entire streets. Collectors had stopped hauling it away because they have nowhere to take it. The southern Campania region - home to the luxurious Amalfi Coast but also the slums of Naples - has been plagued by garbage crises in recent years. Dumps fill up, and local communities block efforts to build new ones or create temporary storage sites. In 2004, the garbage crisis prompted weeks of protests. (AP Photo / Salvatore Laporta )

You guessed it. Plastic causes air pollution too =(

This post will focus on how the incineration of plastic products contributes to increasing air pollution in the world.

  1. Is the incineration of plastics beneficial for the environment? (Eriksson and Finnveden, 2009)
    In a study done by Eriksson and Finnveden (2009), the swedish scientists concluded that burning plastic can give off less carbon dioxide than burying it in landfills. In addition to producing less CO2 emission, the burning of plastics can also provide power normally generated by the burning of fossil fuels.Plastic incineration is preferred in European countries where landfill is expensive and greatly discouraged.
    However, these incineration processes are only carbon-neutral (negative) when they’re carried out in highly efficient plastic incineration plants.
  2. Harmful by-products arising from the incineration of plastics
    Dioxins are formed from the burning of plastics and paper containing polyvinyl chloride. Dioxin is not a single compound, but is a family of compounds consisting of 17 dioxins and furans, and 13 polychlorinated biphenyls. Dioxins are formed when waste is not completely incinerated. Dioxins are carcinogenic in animals and can possibly have the same effect in humans.
    Dioxins formed during incineration are released into the air and travel long distances via air currents, contaminating fields and crops. Cattle and livestock eat soil contaminated with dioxin and these dioxin bioaccumulate in their tissue. Humans are affected when they eat these contaminated meat and dairy products.
    Dioxins cause cancer. Long-term, low-level exposure of humans to dioxins and furans can lead to the impairment of the immune system, impairment of the development of the nervous system and endocrine system, birth defects, altered liver functions, breast cancer, and reproductive functions. Dioxins have also been linked with lowered sperm counts, behavioral problems and increased incidence of diabetes. A systematic review of epidemiologic studies has found an association between dioxin exposure and heart disease. Short-term, high-level exposure may result in skin ulcers called chloracne. Exposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in several types of cancer.
  3. So how should we dispose of plastics if Landfills, Oceans and Incineration are all unfeasible options.
    The obvious answer in this case would literally be to refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle. The future posts will explore how plastic pollution can be reduced or even eliminated.

against_incineration

Sources:
Eriksson, O. and Finnveden, G., 2009. Plastic waste as a fuel-CO 2-neutral or not?. Energy & Environmental Science, 2(9), pp.907-914.

Menad, N., Bj├Ârkman, B. and Allain, E.G., 1998. Combustion of plastics contained in electric and electronic scrap. Resources, conservation and recycling, 24(1), pp.65-85.