Plastics have recently become the “bad guy” of materials, mainly because they don’t degrade easily or quickly. People throw away plastic and clog landfills or create unsightly trash. This has caused major problems for many wildlife. Marine animals, in particular, often get tangled up in plastic waste. Even worse, tiny plastic particles (” microplastics “) can damage the digestive systems of the animals that eat them.
As a species, humans aren’t very good at dealing with the amount of plastic waste we produce. However, plastic is a very useful material! You may be surprised to learn that plastic isn’t all bad. Let’s look at the useful aspects of plastic.
Separating different plastics out into different waste streams is difficult. Unless they are well-separated, they are difficult to recycle. So, with current recycling processes there is always some plastic waste that cannot be recycled. One obvious way to get rid of the waste is simply to burn it; this would produce a lot of heat that could be used constructively, for example to generate electricity. Burning plastics sounds like an environmental disaster due to CO2 emissions; however, burning plastic is no worse than burning oil and coal and at least this would reduce the amount of plastic being dumped into the world’s oceans. Burning plastic could be a good solution until other approaches are found.