Recycling and biodegradability

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Plastic, an all-around product the cause of wars and of a global environmental and social nightmare

People are concerned about the future because the basic raw materials for plastic are petroleum and/or natural gas

What is in plastics that we are not told about?

Collecting plastic packaging at curbside fosters the belief that, like aluminum and glass, the recovered material is converted into new packaging.

What to do? Just say no to plastics.

Plastics made from plants


Seven common misconceptions about plastics and alternatives

10,000 uses of plastics

Plastic is an all-around product. Plastic can be flexible or rigid; transparent or opaque. It can look like leather, wood, or silk. It can be made into toys or heart valves. Plastics today play an important part in cutting-edge technologies such as the space program, bullet-proof vests and prosthetic limbs, as well as in everyday products such as beverage containers, medical devices and automobiles. Altogether there are more than 10,000 different kinds of plastics. See a short list at the end.

The basic raw materials for plastic are oil and/or natural gas. These fossil fuels are sometimes combined with other elements, such as oxygen or chlorine, to make different types of plastic.

Plastics are polymers. What is a polymer? The most simple definition of a polymer is something made of many units. Think of a polymer as a chain. Each link of the chain is the "-mer" or basic unit that is usually made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and/or silicon. To make the chain, many links or "-mers" are hooked or polymerized together.

Even though the basic makeup of many polymers is carbon and hydrogen, other elements can also be involved. Oxygen, chorine, fluorine, nitrogen, silicon, phosphorous and sulfur are other elements that are found in the molecular makeup of polymers. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) contains chlorine. Nylon contains nitrogen. Teflon contains fluorine. Polyester and polycarbonates contain oxygen. There are also some polymers that, instead of having a carbon backbone, have a silicon or phosphorous backbone. These are considered inorganic polymers.

Polymers are divided into two distinct groups: thermoplastics and thermosets. The majority of polymers are thermoplastic, meaning that once the polymer is formed it can be heated and reformed over and over again. This property allows for easy processing and facilitates recycling. The other group, the thermosets, can not be remelted. Once these polymers are formed, reheating will cause the material to scorch.

Every polymer has very distinct characteristics, but most polymers have the following general attributes.

1.     Polymers can be very resistant to chemicals. Consider all the cleaning fluids in your home that are packaged in plastic. Reading the warning labels that describe what happens when the chemical comes in contact with skin or eyes or is ingested will emphasize the chemical resistance of these materials.

2.     Polymers can be both thermal and electrical insulators. A walk through your house will reinforce this concept, as you consider all the appliances, cords, electrical outlets and wiring that are made or covered with polymeric materials. Thermal resistance is evident in the kitchen with pot and pan handles made of polymers, the coffee pot handles, the foam core of refrigerators and freezers, insulated cups, coolers and microwave cookware. The thermal underwear that many skiers wear is made of polypropylene and the fiberfill in winter jackets is acrylic.

3.    Generally, polymers are very light in weight with varying degrees of strength. Consider the range of applications, from toys to the frame structure of space stations, or from delicate nylon fiber in pantyhose or Kevlar, which is used in bulletproof vests.

4.     Polymers can be processed in various ways to produce thin fibers or very intricate parts. Plastics can be molded into bottles or the bodies of a cars or be mixed with solvents to become an adhesive or a paint. Elastomers and some plastics stretch and are very flexible. Other polymers can be foamed like polystyrene (StyrofoamTM) and urethane, to name just two examples. Polymers are materials with a seemingly limitless range of characteristics and colors. Polymers have many inherent properties that can be further enhanced by a wide range of additives to broaden their uses and applications. In addressing all the superior attributes of polymers, it is equally important to discuss some of the difficulties associated with the material. Plastics deteriorate but never decompose completely. Plastics make up 9.5 percent of our trash by weight compared to paper, which constitutes 38.9 percent. Glass and metals make up 13.9 percent by weight.

Recycled plastics are used to make polymeric timbers for use in picnic tables, fences and outdoor toys, thus saving natural lumber. Plastic from 2-liter bottles is even being spun into fiber for the production of carpet.

Recycled plastics are used to make polymeric timbers for use in picnic tables, fences and outdoor toys, thus saving natural lumber. Plastic from 2-liter bottles is even being spun into fiber for the production of carpet.

An option for plastics that are not recycled, especially those that are soiled, such as used microwave food wrap or diapers, can be a waste-to-energy system (WTE).

The controlled combustion of polymers produces heat energy. The heat energy produced by the burning plastics not only can be converted to electrical energy but helps burn the wet trash that is present. Paper also produces heat when burned, but not as much as plastics. On the other hand, glass, aluminum and other metals do not release any energy when burned.

To better understand the incineration process, consider the smoke coming off a burning object and then ignite the smoke with a Bunsen burner. Observe that the smoke disappears. This is not an illusion, but illustrates that the by-products of incomplete burning are still flammable. Incineration burns the material and then the by-products of the initial burning.

Polymers affect every day of our life. These materials have so many varied characteristics and applications that their usefulness can only be measured by our imagination. Polymers are the materials of past, present and future generations.

Plastic wrap helps keep meat fresh while protecting it from the poking and prodding fingers of your fellow shoppers. Plastic bottles mean you can actually lift an economy-size bottle of juice. And should you accidentally drop that bottle, it is shatter-resistant. In each case, plastics help make your life easier, healthier and safer.

Plastics help make portable phones and computers that really are portable. They help major appliances - like refrigerators or dishwashers - resist corrosion, last longer and operate more efficiently. Plastic car fenders and body panels resist dings, so you can cruise the grocery store parking lot with confidence.

Modern packaging -- such as heat-sealed plastic pouches and wraps -- helps keep food fresh and free of contamination. That means the resources that went into producing that food aren't wasted. It's the same thing once you get the food home: plastic wraps and resealable containers keep your leftovers protected.

Doing more with less helps conserve resources in another way. It helps save energy. In fact, plastics can play a significant role in energy conservation. Just look at the decision you're asked to make at the grocery store check-out: "Paper or plastic?"

Not only do plastic bags require less total energy to produce than paper bags, they conserve fuel in shipping. It takes five trucks to carry the same number of paper bags as fits in one truckload of plastic bags.

Plastics also help to conserve energy in your home. Vinyl siding and windows help cut energy consumption and lower your heating and cooling bills. People of many cities have access to a plastics recycling program. The two common forms of collection are: curbside collection - where consumers place designated plastics in a special bin to be picked up by a public or private hauling company and drop-off centers - where consumers take their recyclables to a centrally located facility. Most curbside programs collect more than one type of plastic resin. Once collected, the plastics are delivered to a material recovery facility or handler for sorting into single resin streams to increase product value. The sorted plastics are then baled to reduce shipping costs to reclaimers.

Reclamation is the next step where the plastics are chopped into flakes, washed to remove contaminants and sold to end users to manufacture new products such as containers, clothing, carpet, plastic lumber, etc.

Source reduction is gaining more attention as an important resource conservation and solid waste management option. Source reduction, often called "waste prevention" is defined as "activities to reduce the amount of material in products and packaging before that material enters the municipal solid waste management system."

Source reduction activities reduce the consumption of resources at the point of generation. In general, source reduction activities include:

*     Redesigning products or packages so as to reduce the quantity of the materials used, by substituting lighter materials for heavier ones or lengthening the life of products to postpone disposal.
*     Using packaging that reduces the amount of damage or spoilage to the product.
*     Reducing amounts of products or packages used through modification of current practices by processors and consumers.
*     Reusing products or packages already manufactured.
*     Managing non-product organic wastes (food wastes, yard trimmings) through backyard composting or other on-site alternatives to disposal.

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People are concerned about the future because the basic raw materials for plastic are petroleum and/or natural gas, and production of these resources is already peaking and declining. It is estimated that 50 years down the road the world will be out of oil and gas and so what will we use to make plastics.

The concern about "running out of oil" arises from misunderstanding the significance of a petroleum industry measure called the Reserves/Production ratio (R/P). This monitors the production and exploration interactions. The R/P is based on the concept of "proved" reserves of fossil fuels. Proved reserves are those quantities of fossil fuels that geological and engineering information indicate with reasonable certainty can be recovered in the future from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions. The Reserves/Production ratio is the proved reserves quantity divided by the production in the last year, and the result will be the length of time that those remaining proved reserves would last if production were to continue at the current level. It is important to note the economic and technology component of the definitions, as the price of oil increases ( or new technology becomes available ), marginal fields become "proved reserves". We are unlikely to "run out" of oil, as more fields become economic. Note that investment in exploration is also linked to the R/P ratio, and the world crude oil R/P ratio typically moves between 20-40 years, however specific national incentives to discover oil can extend that range upward.

 Crude oil  Proved reserves  R/P ratio
 Middle East  89.4 billion tonnes  93.4 years
 USA  3.8  9.8
 USA - 1995 USGS data  10.9  33.0
 Total world  137.3  43.0
 Coal  Proven reserves  R/P ratio
 USA  240.56 billion tonnes  247 years
 Total world  1,043.864  235 years
 Natural gas  Proven reserves  R/P ratio
 USA  4.6 trillion cubic meters  8.6 years
 USA - 1995 USGS data  9.1  17.0
 Total world  141.0  66.4

Crude oil is a limited resource. It is estimated that there is a total of 2390 billion barels of crude oil on Earth. Estimates of undiscovered reserves range from 275 to 1469 billion barels.

About 77% of crude oil has already been discovered, and 30% of it has been used so far. From 1859-1968 200 billion barels of oil have been used, and since then oil production has stabilized to 30 billion barels per year. It is estimated that oil reserves will become scarce by 2050s. Most of oil is concentrated in the Near East - around 41%. North America, Russia, and Antartic are also rich in crude oil.

As part of a scenario without oil and gas or not much of those resources for our use the world will have to sustain itself and do things in a more natural or austere way. Such as, no plastic hoses replaceable for watering gardens. If this were not a serious enough challenge, it turns out that plastics are full of poisons that kill living things including people. Think of it as a permanent, toxic oil spill. The dangers of plastics have been ignored and suppressed for decades, but the recent news on the extent that plastics are killing sea animals and birds will finally raise the human health issue through the environmental focus.

About 125 billion kilograms of raw plastic pellets are produced annually worldwide and turned into a tremendous variety of products, from cars and computers to packaging and pens (see a short list of plastic products below). People think of oil mainly as the strategic fuel for their cars, and some Americans justify a foreign policy that kills for oil. If they knew how dependent they were on massive amounts of plastic from oil and natural gas for other basic modern products, the war cry could be louder.

Plastics, cheap energy, clean drinking water and almost all other key resources are about to become sharply limited within the next two generations. This limitation is brought about by the world's growing population rapidly depleting resources.

Did you know that you should not have plastics in contact with your food and water at all? And with your skin – what do you do about touching plastic hoses in your garden that spew plastic-tainted water on your food plants? If you thought plastics were safe for your own self anyway, it turns out you were wrong.

Lead, cadmium, mercury, dioxins, PCBs and other cancer causing petrochemicals. You might want to consider never again walking barefoot on your PVC-floor kitchen or bathroom.

The Global Community Assessment Centre (GCAC)
has added diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) – a compound used to make plastics flexible – to the list of known reproductive toxicants. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) typically contains up to 40 percent DEHP. The chemical, which leaches out of PVC products such as blood-storage bags and intravenous tubing, can disrupt the normal development of mail reproductive organs in animals. Manufacturers should label affected products to be sold in the world as containing a reproductive poison.

There has been a plastics-industry conspiracy to keep the health consequences quiet. The PVC industry has known about the carcinogenicity of VCM (a component of polyvinyl chloride) since about 1970.

Plastics debris and minute plastic particles floating in huge expanses of the Pacific Ocean are six times as prevalent weight-wise than the plankton there. Birds and fish eat plastics constantly, and starve to death. Even worse, the extremely high concentration of toxic chemicals adhering to the plastics eaten by the animals goes into their fat cells. As the poisons go up the food chain and accumulate, this in one reason we can no longer safely eat tuna. However research is still needed on how much of a food-fish's toxicity derives from plastic as opposed to general pollution and non-plastic sources. Poisoned sea animals are all over the world, due to the easy migration of chemicals through the air and bodies of water. This is why Eskimos often have dangerously high levels of PCBs in their breast milk.

About 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other marine animals are killed by plastic bags each year worldwide Plastic from petroleum does not biodegrade. It breaks down, especially with UV radiation, into finer and finer particles. This makes plastic and the lingering toxicants easier to ingest. Some plastic particles, such as the "nurdles" pictured above that are used as raw material for making plastics, are confused by sea creatures and birds to be eggs or other prey.

A fourth of the planet's surface area has become an accumulator of floating plastic debris. What can be done with this new class of products made specifically to defeat natural recycling?

But land animals have problems with plastic as well. Aside from the human animal, many species are threatened by trash as well as development of wild land into human industrial communities and suburbs.

The stomach contents of dead birds contain plastic objects, so we can assume that land birds are also dying from plastic ingestion.

The many kinds of plastics and their additives such as heavy metals and DEHP (the plasticizer to be warning-labeled in the world) make recycling problematic. Additionally, plastic does not recycle well due to the properties of its fibers, and if more than a small amount of recycled plastic is put into new production of plastics, the result is an inferior and unprofitable product. It is a fraud upon the public that the "chasing arrows" on plastic containers imply recyclability and recycled content. The types of plastics and varieties of containers that can actually be recycled are few. What's more, the plastics industry including soft-drink corporations have been let off from collecting or recycling their poisonous garbage. Apart from some lower-grade materials, such as park benches, carpets and some garments made from recycled plastic, utilization of recycled plastics is mostly a myth.

Collecting plastic packaging at curbside fosters the belief that, like aluminum and glass, the recovered material is converted into new packaging. In fact, most recovered plastic packaging is not made into packaging again but into new secondary products such as textiles, parking lot bumpers, or plastic lumber – all unrecyclable products. This does not reduce the use of virgin materials in plastic packaging.

Curbside collection does not reduce the amount of plastic landfilled. If establishing collection makes plastic packages seem more environmentally friendly, people may feel comfortable buying more. Curbside plastic collection programs, intended to reduce municipal plastic waste, might backfire if total use rises faster than collection. Since only a fraction of certain types of plastic could realistically be captured by a curbside program, the net impact of initiating curbside collection could be an increase in the amount of plastic landfilled. Furthermore, since most plastic reprocessing leads to secondary products that are not themselves recycled, this material is only temporarily diverted from landfills.

The Global Community promotes a 40 cent payment for each plastic bag used at retail, which will go into environmental clean up and education against plastics from petroleum. This would make a dent in the problem, but you'll want to see more done, and fast, the more you find out about plastics.

How many of those plastic containers do we really reuse, anyway? And now that we know plastic is unsafe, we need to fight for a consensus that plastics have had their day, at least in allowing further spread.  The demise of petroleum supply that some analysts anticipate shortly will have to be the form of action to permanently cap the plastics plague. Meanwhile, or in anticipation of the collapse ahead of petroleum civilization, doing more than trying to reject plastics means changing our lifestyle toward simpler, less materialistic living.

Every time we use a new plastic bag they go and get more petroleum from the Middle East and bring it over in tankers. We are extracting and destroying the Earth to use a plastic bag for 10 minutes. What could be more important, when an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion bags are used annually worldwide?

Just to consider one product, bicycles: they are a sustainable alternative to cars, so we cannot ignore the plastics component of bikes. Tires for bikes (and cars) were once made out of the rubber plant, and that has to recommence. Rubber (from the tree) is not a plastic, although plasticizers are put into plastics for pliability.  Petroleum has become indispensable to almost every aspect of modern society's operation. The trend is the other direction, as more and more parts for bicycles (and cars) are made of plastic.

As the petroleum-driven economy's machinery churns along and eats up the Earth and the biosphere, people who bother to think about plastics assume that nonpetroleum sources are around the corner. However, a focus on recycling plastics misses the greater reality in front of our noses which is the health issue, as we have seen.

Plastics made from plants, unlike petroleum-plastics, offer biodegradability which helps to relieve the problem of solid-waste disposal, but degradation gives off greenhouse gases, thereby compromising air quality. Plant-based plastics using fermentation are technologically simpler to produce than plastics grown in corn, potatoe, eggplant or other vegetables but they compete with other needs for agricultural land. However, beyond the threat to the environment and our health posed by genetically modified organism, the corporations – by engaging in agricultural strip mining for making biomass for plastics or alcohol fuels – would further degrade land that is already losing topsoil at a rate hundreds of times faster than nature normally would allow.

Recent research, however, has raised doubts about the utility of these approaches. For one, biodegradability has a hidden cost: the biological breakdown of plastics releases carbon dioxide and methane, heat-trapping greenhouse gases that international efforts currently aim to reduce. What is more, fossil fuels would still be needed to power the process that extracts the plastic from the plants, an energy requirement that we discovered is much greater than anyone had thought. After calculating all the energy and raw materials required for each step of growing plastic, it was discovered that this approach would consume even more fossil resources than most petrochemical manufacturing routes. Production of plastic from plants will inevitably emit more greenhouse gases than do many of its petrochemical counterparts. However, it appears that both emissions and the depletion of fossil resources would be abated by continuing to make plastics from oil while substituting renewable biomass as the fuel.

However, how many million acres need to be planted to yield quantities of vegetable plastic for the global economy? We need to question the alleged socioeconomic needs of petroleum substitutes, and ask how many millions of people are supposed to use these materials for how many decades. But the bigger question is, don't people need to eat the potatoes and eggplant we can grow? The land needs to be used for other essential purposes, rather than growing plastic parts for unnecessary motor vehicles or kitchen equipment, for example. Monocrops are against species diversity.  However, regardless of what people may wish as policy to satisfy their material wants, the energy to produce massive quantities of biomass for non-food purposes will not be available without abundant, cheap petroleum resources.

The real alternative to oil, lead and plastics is no car, because even "clean cars" are monumentally polluting, contrary to green propaganda.

An effective approach to fighting plastics means reducing petroleum consumption across the board. We need to do so anyway, as the world peak in global oil extraction is happening about now. Natural gas is getting tighter in supply as well. There will not be a set of alternatives ready to substitute for astronomically high oil and gas prices, because of lack of planning in corrupt, materialist societies. Maximum energy conservation of nonrenewable resources is essential. For example, bike carts need to be a major industry. Highway building must stop immediately. People must do without cars, refrigerators, computers, etc. It's either drastic reductions or complete collapse of the petroleum-driven economy, along with more poisons into the environment and our bodies. The choice is ours. So, for starters our reusable shopping bags (that we stash in bike saddle-bags!) are going to get more use. We cannot wait for reforms when the pace of modern life makes us  miss opportunities to survive. The 40 cent deposit on plastic bags will do wonders, but must be in the spirit of a revolution for conservation. 

Opening our minds to a new way of living will make it easier to free ourselves from the twin unfounded assumptions that we will always need and have plastics, and that they can be safe "enough.".

1.     Plastic packaging offers advantages such as flexibility and light weight, but it creates problems including consumption of fossil resources, pollution, and high energy use in manufacturing; accumulation of wasted plastic in the environment; migration of polymers and additives into foods; and an abundance of public misinformation about plastics issues.

2.     Curbside collection of discarded plastics is expensive and has limited benefits in reducing environmental impacts, diverting resources from waste, or achieving mandated recycling goals.

3.     It is likely that establishing plastics collection would increase consumption by making plastic appear more ecologically friendly both to consumers and retailers.

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-     Plastics that go into a curbside recycling bin get recycled.
-     Curbside collection will reduce the amount of plastic landfilled.
-     A chasing arrows symbol means a plastic container is recyclable.
-     Packaging resins are made from petroleum refineries’ waste.
-     Plastics recyclers pay to promote plastics’ recyclability.
-     Using plastic containers conserves energy.
-     Our choice is limited to recycling or wasting.


Reduce the use – source reduction.
Reuse containers.
Require producers to take back resins.
Legislatively require recycled content.
Standardize labeling and inform the public.

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Badges ;     Bins (Small) ;     Bookcovers ;     Bookmarks ;     Bottles ;     Buckets ;     Calendars (Desktop) ;     Can Openers ;     Clipboards ;     Clips (Magnetic Backed) ;     Decoder Rings ;     Flying Discs ;     Funnel ;     Key Chains ;     Key Ring Organizer ;     Key Rings ;     Key Tags ;     Lapel Pins and Emblems ;     License Plate Frames ;     Lunch Bags ;     Magnets ;     Mini Recycling Bin ;     Other ;     Pencils ;     Pens ;     Piggy Banks ;     Plaques and Awards ;     Rulers ;     Shoelaces ;     Zipper Tags

Recreational Products & Toys

Bicycle Racks ;     Blocks ;     Bottles (Bicycle) ;     Bottles (Sport) ;     Cameras ;     Fitness Courses ;     Flying Discs ;     Golf Accessories ;     Golf Bag ;     Kayaks and Accessories ;     Other ;     Pails ;     Playground Equipment ;     Recyclables Kit ;     Sandboxes ;     Snowboard ;     Snowmobile Guards ;     Sporting Goods ;     Stadium Seats ;     Toy Boxes ;     Toy Spinner Tops ;     Whistles ;     Yo-Yos

Road, Highway & Parking

Barrel Wrap ;     Barricades ;     Barriers (noise) ;     Barriers (Safety) ;     Blocks ;     Blocks (Off-Set) ;     Bollards (Parking) ;     Bump Wall Stops ;     Car Stops ;     Channelization System ;     Curbing (Temporary) ;     Glare Screen ;     Guard Rail Posts ;     Highway Delineators ;     Hose Bridges ;     Marker (tubular) ;     Parking Stops ;     Pothole Filler ;     Sound Barriers ;     Speed Bumps ;     Tiles ;     Utility Poles

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