Magical Plastic

News Brief by Kip Hansen

featured_image_plastic

Plastics are as much in the news as climate change, and hold the same honored place as a universal scapegoat — an item so odious that all are welcome to blame it for a host of ills environmental and social, real or imagined.

The media has recently highlighted a few stories that shed some light on the question of plastics as a dilemma of modern societies.

Before turning your wrath and scorn on this well-meaning author, please review my personal stance on the question of plastics in the environment in my previous essays: Plastics Yet Again; An Ocean of Plastic; Contrary to the NY Times, The DR Has Lots of Clean Beautiful Beaches.

A good summary of my position on plastics is: “We each need to do all we can to keep every sort of trash and plastic contained and disposed of in a responsible manner – this keeps it out of the oceans (and the rest of the natural environment).

Plastic is a controversial issue for the very reasons that so many modern goods (and their packaging) are made from plastic: it is malleable, it is moldable, it can be both stiff and strong and flexible and bendable, most plastics stand up well to sunshine, it is impervious to water and many strong bases and acids, it can be clear as pure water or totally opaque and can be made in every color imaginable. In short, it is a miracle class of materials. One side effect is that it tends to persist when allowed to enter the environment.

It is not, however, “forever”: despite reams and reels of propaganda aimed mostly at school-children, especially in the United States. You can see the incredible mass of sheer nonsense using any internet search engine on the phrase “Plastic is Forever”.

PLASTICS DEGRADE

One latest bits of news is that plastics degrade both in open air exposed to sunlight and in water. Of course, given that plastics are bad, even their natural degradation must be served up as a bad thing.

In contrast to actual science, the propaganda meme “Plastic is forever” is simply not true. Anyone, like myself, who has lived at sea in the tropics knows that plastic containers of almost all types rapidly degrade in the sunlight. Plastic coolers, plastic bottles, plastic handles on boat hooks, plastic clothespins and plastic clamps and even plastic zippers and plastic buttons on your favorite swimsuit.

In An Ocean of Plastic I detailed how pelagic plastic (plastic floating in the oceans) is broken down by exposure to sunlight and the motion of the water, into smaller and smaller pieces. At the same time, microbes of all types make their homes on the surface of the plastic pieces and begin to eat the plastic, wearing away at the surface, opening cracks, and contributing to the breaking of the pieces into smaller and tinier pieces. Eventually, like small chips of ice in glass of ice water, the surface area becomes so large in relation to the volume that the pieces simply disappear, having been eaten entirely by the microbes on the surface.

Although the study highlighted by ScienceDaily was produced by researchers at the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Microbial Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, Hawaii, nothing in the paper “Production of methane and ethylene from plastic in the environment” has anything to do with microbes and does not even mention the fact that microbes are busy eating all that environmental plastic.

What it does do is attempt to raise the alarm that when plastics (which are not “forever”) degrade in the open air exposed to sunlight or in water, the plastics, like all hydrocarbon compounds, break down into simpler hydrocarbons, particularly the gases methane (CH4) and ethylene (C2H4 or H2C=CH2).

Methane, they point out, is a greenhouse gas. It is fairly short-lived in the atmosphere, with a half-life of about seven years, readily oxidizing to CO2 and water – the same result seen when it is burned as natural gas. Ethylene (or ethene) is a naturally produced plant hormone that promotes ripening of many fruits. Hydrated ethylene is alcohol — grain alcohol — and is naturally produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts. Both gases are extremely abundant in the natural world and are important products of biological chemistry.

Tip to Homemakers: Ethylene is the gas emitted by ripening fruit. Apples, for instance, can be used in the kitchen to hasten the ripening of fruits by placing an apple along with the unripe fruit in a brown paper bag where the ethylene from the apple will collect and chemically signal ripening of the other fruit.

The researchers in Hawaii draw the following conclusions:

“While serving many applications because of their durability, stability and low cost, plastics have deleterious effects on the environment. Plastic is known to release a variety of chemicals during degradation, which has a negative impact on biota. …. Our results show that plastics represent a heretofore unrecognized source of climate-relevant trace gases that are expected to increase as more plastic is produced and accumulated in the environment.”

The claimed “deleterious effects” of plastics “on the environment” — besides the obvious negatives of litter and erroneous ingestion by birds and animals — are all in the category of “might” and “could” — and almost all concerns about degradation products of plastics deal not with the plastic itself, but with additives in the particular plastic product. As for being a “source of climate-relevant trace gases”, I am afraid the authors have the arrow of cause backwards. The plastics that they are worried about have been manufactured mostly from petrochemicals in the first instance….petrochemicals that are not being immediately burned to produce GHGs, but rather sequestering those potential GHGs in solid materials for slow release at some time in the future, rather like the growing of trees sequesters CO2 for release when the wood eventually decomposes.

The misguided authors have missed the boat on this one — they had a:

Good News Story: Plastic is Not Forever! It naturally degrades into common, every day, generally-considered-safe biological gases — gases produced by plants and animals in the normal processes of life.

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IN MUSEUMS, WHERE OBJECTS ARE MEANT TO LAST FOREVER, PLASTICS ARE FAILING THE TEST OF TIME

If you are not yet convinced that plastic is not forever, consider the story from the New York Times “These Cultural Treasures Are Made of Plastic. Now They’re Falling Apart.

“The custodians of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit at the National Air and Space Museum saw it coming. A marvel of human engineering, the suit is made of 21 layers of various plastics: nylon, neoprene, Mylar, Dacron, Kapton and Teflon.

The rubbery neoprene layer would pose the biggest problem. Although invisible, buried deep between the other layers, the suit’s caretakers knew the neoprene would harden and become brittle with age, eventually making the suit stiff as a board. In January 2006, the Armstrong suit, a national treasure, was taken off display and stored to slow the degradation.”

It is not just technological marvels that have a degrading problem — Art is also in trouble. Over at Harvard:

“Claes Oldenburg’s False Food Selection (1966) consists of a wooden box containing readymade plastic food items, such as a banana and a tomato. Made of isoprene rubber, the objects were originally rather realistic in appearance; today, they look deflated and somewhat unappetizing. …. Their altered appearance, which was not the artist’s intent, provides a startling lesson that plastic isn’t nearly as stable an artistic material as wood, metal, or clay, for example”

A lot of people think plastic is going to last forever, when, in fact, it may be one of the most fragile materials you can use,” said Georgina Rayner, an associate conservation scientist in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. “Plastics degrade more quickly than probably anything in a museum collection, and by the time you start to notice the degradation, it’s almost too late. You can really only slow it down.”

Plastic is so not forever that even in a near perfect conservation environment – a modern climate-controlled museum — plastic items degrade faster than paints, canvas, stone, glass, wood, metal, or even clay.

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BEFORE YOU FLUSH YOUR CONTACT LENSES, YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW THIS

In the rush not to be left out of the rising concern over plastic in the environment, research presented at the American Chemical Society’s August meeting in Boston revealed the shocking news that 20% of all disposable plastic contact lenses were “flushed … down the toilet or washed … down the sink, rather than [being] put…in the garbage.”

“When the lenses make their way to a wastewater treatment facility, they do not biodegrade easily, the researchers report, and they may fragment and make their way into surface water. There, they can cause environmental damage and may add to the growing problem of microplastic pollution.”

“Filters keep some nonbiological waste out of wastewater treatment plants, said Rolf Halden, the director of the Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University, and Charles Rolsky, a graduate student and the study’s lead author. … But contacts are so flexible that they can fold up and make their way through. The researchers interviewed workers at such facilities, who confirmed that they had spotted lenses in the waste.”

“Then, going through about nine pounds of treated waste, Mr. Rolsky and a colleague found two fragments of contact lens, implying that while microorganisms might not make much of a mark, physical processing might break them into pieces.”

“After processing, treated waste is often spread on fields. If fragments of contacts are in the mixture, they or the substances they’ve picked up may be washed by rain into surface water, the researchers conjecture.”

Contact lenses are made to be worn on the human eye — and thus have a requirement to be sterile and not prone to degradation by light, warmth, body fluids (such as tears) and have surfaces that are not convenient microbial habitat.

In my area, treated waste from waste water plants is not spread on fields — things may be different in Arizona. The researchers conjecture (gotta love the science value of that verb) that if waste water treated solids are spread on fields, and if the waste contains as many as two fragments of contact lenses per nine pounds of waste material, then those two fragments or the substances that the fragments may have picked up in your toilet water or at the waste water treatment plant may be washed into surface water…. May the gods of conjecture have pity on us all!

This all seems way too much like the epidemiologist’s nightmare that if infinitesimal quantities of something exist on a per person basis, then, since there are billions of people, then there exists a lot of that something [infinitesimal times billions = a lot — epidemiological arithmetic] therefore it must be a huge risk to human health.

That said — Throw your disposable contacts in the trash, please. Don’t flush them (or any other rubber and plastic personal products).

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One last item:

The obvious solution to the problem of feral plastic (plastic that has gotten loose in the wild environment) is to manufacture plastic that conveniently decomposes into simpler organic compounds that can easily be dealt with by the natural process that is biological entropy — the processes that turn dead animals and plants into soil and gases like CO2.

There has been news on this front as well.

Designing the Death of a Plastic appeared also in the venerable New York Times which announces that:

“The latest villains in environmental campaigns are disposable plastic products formed from synthetic polymers — straws, cigarette filters, coffee cup lids, etc. Over the past few decades, this mismatch between material and product life span has built up plastic waste in landfills and natural environments, some drifting in oceans until mounds and mounds have reached the ends of the world and bits have been ingested by marine life.”

A bit of truth with a throw-away false talking point — “mounds and mounds have reached the ends of the world” — attached at the end. The “mounds and mounds” of plastic being spoken of originate at the ends of the world where waste management is still something to be achieved in the distant future. It is true that bits of plastic have been ingested by marine life…score one for accuracy in reporting.

Plastics are, for the most part, polymers: long chains of identical (or very similar) organic chemicals (hydrocarbons). To turn a plastic into goo or dust, it is only necessary to get the chains to spontaneously break apart. There have been some advances along the lines of using starches as part of the polymer chains. The starches, when exposed to moisture and microbes, dissolve and the plastic breaks into tiny, molecular-sized pieces. Other sorts of solutions have been used to make “compostable” plastic bags — which in reality means that if you send them to a commercial municipal composting plant, it will break down into component parts — but it will not do so in your home compost pile.

There have been advances in designing “death” into plastics — but don’t hold your breath waiting for these new plastics to show up in your homeowner products or packaging materials.

“Economically speaking, replacing the most widely used polymers like polyethylene (grocery bags), polypropylene (fishing nets) or polyterephthalate (single-use bottles) with unzipping polymers is not feasible.

For most of the developing world, simply collecting and landfilling municipal waste, including the plastic, would be a major improvement. In the developed world, if we want to keep plastic out of the environment and the oceans, we need real recycling programs that actually do something other than landfill the used plastic. Even burning it to make electricity or produce heat would be preferable to landfilling — but this must be done in a properly designed high-temperature clean-coal-type plant or a municipal waste fueled power plant. Again, most of the problems with burning plastic is not the plastic itself, but additives in the plastic products. High-temperature incineration coupled with flue gas treatments to reduce pollutants is a reasonable and efficient approach.

Turning recycled plastic soda and water bottles into plastic lumber for outdoor use is also an approach that is comparatively inexpensive and sensible. In the United States, outdoor decks are all the rage, being almost a requirement for modern living and must be fitted with an outdoor gas grill and outdoor furniture. The outdoor furniture too can be made out of recycled plastic bottles of all types.

The Bottom Line:

We each need to do all we can to keep every sort of trash and plastic contained and disposed of in a responsible manner – this keeps it out of the oceans and the rest of the natural environment.

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Author’s Comment Policy:

I was interested to find that all the articles on plastics contained nearly identical wordage along the lines of “A majority of the world’s plastic waste ends up in the sea, where, because of currents, it often becomes concentrated in subtropical gyres or ‘ocean garbage patches.’ This pollution is often ingested by marine life and can find its way into the human food chain.” [ quote source: New York Times] This is blatantly false. When journalists repeat these obvious falsehoods, it is a sign that Editorial Narratives are at work and that mandated propaganda has outshouted reason and truth.

Self-destructing plastic — the Magical Plastic of today’s title — is not going to arrive in time to obviate the need for proper handling of mankind’s trash. We have to see that our own communities and nations adhere to basic kindergarten rules: Pick up after yourself — don’t litter — put your trash in the trash bin.

I’d love to hear your local stories about how your community is (or isn’t) doing its part.

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163 thoughts on “Magical Plastic

  1. Plastic of any type in the Mojave, CA High Desert quickly degrades with virtually zero rainfall and apparent zero bacteria due to infrared sunlight and heat breakdown. Very quickly, in a matter of years, the plastic becomes embrittled and starts to shatter. What lasts much longer is rubber.

      • and in Victoria;-0 and those damned shopping bags that DO degrade fast are a pain, i stored things in them in the laundry hanging up
        after a while, you hear a crash…bags disintegrating
        the heavy duty 20plus litre white buckets manage around 10yrs outside max, as horse waterers then they too go brittle and i end up picking up shards to bin.

        • I had one of those compartmented woven plastic bags for wine bottles. I left it in the back of my car for when I went to the store. I picked it up last weekend and it started to fall apart in my hands. It obviously degraded in the heat and sunlight of my hatchback.

        • Let’s be clear about this; CLEAR plastic will degrade fairly quickly in sunlight. Opaque colored plastic seems more durable in the environment. Case in point; I’ve been storing excess rainwater in plastic jugs and buckets. “Tidy Cat” brand. A half-inch of rain will fill my rain barrels, and so I pump the water from the rain barrels into clear plastic jugs and yellow plastic buckets. These containers get stacked up in the back yard near the garden.

          By the end of the summer, I can’t pick up a clear plastic jug filled with rainwater; the jug shatters. The yellow buckets are good for 3 years so far, and probably a couple more, as none of these have shattered yet.

      • PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are extremely stable organic compounds that were once used for many applications such as transformers and capacitors due to their fire resistance and dielectric properties. I learned first hand that PCBs will weather and degrade when exposed to direct sunlight. Spent a couple decades working on PCB remediation projects. Most plastics should be a piece of cake to degrade compared with PCBs.

    • What lasts much longer is rubber.
      No. As anyone who has flown model planes can tell you, rubber is at best if stored carefully good for only a few years at most.

      • Donald is talking about vulcanised rubber (as in car tyres) which lasts a lot longer than unvulcanised (as in rubber bands for models)

        • POI, when I was gainfully employed with an engineering consultancy, I moved over from structures to the environment department, designing & monitoring landfill sites. We came across some information from Germany where they used partially shredded tyres at the end of the leachate ponds to filter out most of the impurities from the landfill, ponds created by rainfall/groundwater wasjing through the waste. As already said above, that awful carbon stuff yet again, we put it in our taps/fawcets for drinking water, our sewage treatement works to clean the waste water, etc, terrible stuff carbon, isn’t it? As to plastic/bags etc, here in the UK we are “encouraged” to purchase a “bag for life” from the stores/supermarkets, etc., & I was brought up through the “Don’t Litter” generation of the 60s & 70s, but it all seems to have gone a tad wayward! Roundabouts on major roads here are often the worst, at the rick of angering any lorry/truck drivers, where drivers throw there luch/snack wrappers out the window!!!! Not a pretty sight!

          • That “bag for life” could end up giving you food poisoning should you forget to clean it between grocery trips. Not just from fresh fruit and veg and meat. Stuff from the freezer section leaves water behind that will promote mold and mildew growth.

          • dred: I assume you mean those hemp bags (I’m not English so I don’t know what they are). In high humidity areas like QLD Australia, they last about 6 weeks in summer before the mold overtakes them completely. The hemp seems to absorb water out of the atmosphere.

            And as you say, when you carry cold foods in them, the cold food is wet by the time you get it home. So mold is guaranteed soon after that.

      • Leo ==> I think the “rubber lasts longer” is referring to the ubiquitous old tire problem seen in much of the landscape. In fact, I have seen very effective use of discarded auto and truck tires being used to stabilize soil on critical slopes, overlapping the tires in rows across the slope, which catch soil in their open centers, where plants root and further stabilize the slope.

        • Old tires are a nasty recycling problem, in part because of that open hole (with the mosquito-breeding water trapped right in bottom curve of that opening.)

          Worse, it takes real work (lots of energy and some incredible forces) to break down the stretchy tire and cut through its internal wire reinforcements. Things burn poorly (dirty and slowly, with little useable energy released due to soot and rubber products) – but once started in a large pile of tires, the things are nearly impossible to put out!

          The tires chemical bonds are hard to break apart as well: UV light only hits small areas of each tire. The solvents to dissolve the whole thing are resisted by the requirement that “ordinary” exposure doesn’t break up the tires walls and tire tread under normal use!

          • RACook ==> Well,you got that right. New York state has a law that the State must include X% shredded used tires in asphalt mixes put down on State roads — but has never actually done it.

            We has a famous tire collection point in Catskill, NY that was to shred tires for sale to the State for sale to the State but it caught fire and burned forever….

          • I remember about 30 years ago, a plant was built for recycling tires. The tires were dipped in liquid nitrogen and then shattered after which a magnet extracted the steel belts while the rest was pulverized into small particles to be used for fuel or even mulch.
            Don’t know if that process is used anymore, but it was quite popular then.

          • Union Electric’s (now Ameren MO) Portage De Sioux power station was designed to burn shredded tires. The retrofitted scrubber system will only allow coal to be used.

          • As a child in the early green movement I assisted ‘cleaning’ our beaches in Perth , West Oz of such things as tyres, glass bottles, shopping carts and all manner of things people dumped. It was one of the things that turned me from the movement, the wholesale slaughter of all the critters that had taken advantage of our generosity in sharing stuff and allow the little guys substrates on which to build and live in safety.

            Yes we were successful in sterilizing the beaches and turning them back into something aesthetically pleasing to humans, but the writhing mass of life(s) that were trucked away in the summer sun to roast and die in landfill disgusted and haunted me.

            Of course now there’s artificial reefs built of rubber tyres and they’re proving extremely popular with the ocean dwellers. So much so that I speculate if we’d never pulled all those structures from the water in the first place, half the fish we’re concerned about would never have seen the declines we’re trying to fix.

            The edge of the ocean has always been the feeding interface between terrestrials and aquatics.. they rely on stuff that leaves the land, we rely on the stuff that leaves the ocean. Sure I have seen birds tangled in fishing lines and it’s sad, but I’ve seen far, far more examples of our junk being happily used positively, from barnacle encrusted (anything) to ropes fuzzy with algae to blue ringed octopus in every second beer bottle to fish playing with bottle caps. Sure it’s rubbish to us, but they seem to use it, much as bat guano seems icky to bats but to humans the stuff is valuable.

          • There is also an issue with the gov’t messing things up. Louisiana had a company formed that was buying used tires and converting them to mats, flaps, and other items, then the state passed a law that all tire sales have a $1.00 disposal fee, and only licensed companies could collect the tires from the dealer who HAD to send the tires with that company, and oh, that recycler wasn’t allowed to buy tires and couldn’t get a license, had to shut down as the state locked the doors and would not allow anyone on the property, and while fighting the state went bankrupt and then the state fined the owners for having illegally stored tires, because they couldn’t recycle said tires or have anyone haul them away as the state was blocking entry. A typical Lousyana cluster.

      • gnomish ==> Yes, it is mostly the UV that degrades plastic exposed to sunlight, thus the extra quick degradation in the tropics.

        An odd problem for sailors is the fact that homeowner plastic jerrycans meant to store gasoline and diesel fuel (and fresh water), which are stored on deck (one doesn’t store gasoline in an enclosed space), also rapidly degrade in the sun. There is one brand of jerrycan that does not degrade — as it is made from a different plastic than that used in the less expensive ubiquitous homeowner versions. Hint: Look for the HDPE marking.

        • Yes, and zip-ties, which are very useful, must be made of HDPE if used where they are exposed to direct sunlight. Otherwise they degrade in a few years and fail.

        • I use a jerrycan that doesn’t degrade with UV. It’s made of steel.
          Anyone who transports gasoline in a plastic container is taking a huge risk.

          • gnomish ==> Polypropylene is degraded rather rapidly by the Sun.

            It’s advantage is that it floats, and I use it for dinghy painters, lifelines on life-rings, and other uses that are better served by a rope that floats. We just figure in the replacement every year….

    • I, in common with many livestock farmers, used old car tyres as ‘weights’ on silage clamps.
      We used them in their hundreds on the plastic sheeting that sealed the top surface of silage clamps to keep oxygen out and prevent the whole thing turning into a pile of stinking black slime.
      The practice *was* (I don’t know now) classed as a Beneficial Use of Waste.

      Tyres *were* given away free by garages etc, were a nice handleable size & weight and were relatively soft without sharp edges that would puncture the sheet and hence spoil the silage.
      But and even in cool climate of Cumbria, if left in a tangled pile out-of-doors, they would disintegrate within 10 years – from the bottom of the pile upwards.
      Damp and (green) mould did them in.

      It was a real hazard as it exposed the steel wires in the beads and you had to be very careful those wires did not get into the fodder. Once exposed to the damp condition, the bead-wires corroded so fast as to almost burn creating myriad of sharp needle-like pieces – hellish stuff for puncturing cows’ stomachs.

      Otherwise, wildlife critters loved them. Wrens, robins and tits of all sorts nested within the tangled piles of tyres if/when they were stored (un-needed) out-of-doors in the springtime.

      Of course some escaped the confines of the farmyard – via cows using the assembled pile for practice headbutting competitions (think boxer’s punchbag) and would turn up under fences & hedges and in ditches almost anywhere & everywhere.
      If you went to retrieve the runaway (roll-away?) rubberoid lumps, you almost always regretted doing so as some sweet little critter would have made a home, nest or nursery inside of the thing. Think field mouse, harvest mouse, hedgehog etc Insects too, think pollination here.
      Yet too small for Rattus Norvegicus. Win win win – Rattus would have destroyed the nests had he found them or could gain access.

      As is The Modern Way, should the DEFRA inspector see the runaway rubber, you the farmer would be in sooooo much shit for letting it happen and polluting England’s Green & Pleasant Land
      The bureaucracy simply coulnd’t grasp what useful things old car-tyres were for the wildlife while berating you for destroying same wildlife. Under their orders.

      The Insanity is rampant, everywhere and increasing.
      (In direct correlation with increasing sugar consumption, but you knew that)

      • “livestock farmers, used old car tyres as ‘weights’ on silage clamps.” In the US, just the sidewalls are used as weights. Those donuts are cut from discarded truck tires, don’t hold water like a full tire would, and stack in smaller piles. We also use them to hold down the ever present orange construction barrels 🙁

    • Donald:
      Are you sure about the infrared light degradation?

      The sun’s ultraviolet frequencies damage plastics everywhere.
      e.g. Those cheap white 5 gallon buckets quickly degrade from sunlight, i.e. the ultraviolet radiation.
      I do a lot of rock collecting. The buckets I take on field trips quickly degrade and get kicked out of rotation.
      The buckets sold for farm use, often black nut may be red, green purple, last for years even if left in full sun.

      • ATheoK,

        Indeed it is the UV light which breaks the bonds in the plastics: especially some left double bonds (as in most plastics) and where there are side-chains (as in all polypropene).

        Different methods to reduce degrading include: crosslinking the long chains and adding UV absorbers. Carbon black is a good one and some mineral colors, depending of the kind of plastic.

      • ATheoK ==> From my years at sea, the white plastic five-gallon pail is an essential item. The right ones last for a very long time even left on deck (as is my practice). It is the plastic that matters — HDPE food-grade buckets are the longest lasting. Outboard fuel tanks are made of HDPE and meant to be left in the sun for ages.

        As my wife and I aged, we shifted to three gallon buckets — all the easier to pull up out of the sea full of water.

  2. Lancaster, CA several years ago put up a big solar reflection generation station with collector tower. Driving by today over on Avenue G, it has been completely dismantled. They were playing with it up and running for less than 3 years.

  3. We have dumpsters in Lancaster, CA for recyclables, organic waste and regular trash. For the past six month, the dump truck have been picking up the organic waster (wood, yard clippings, grass, etc) and dumping it in the trucks that also dump regular trash. They were supposed to build a facility to ecogen power or methanol or whatever it was from the organic waste. Much ballyhooed 5 or so years ago, it was never built. Apparently these projects are big dreams short on real cash and not cost effective.

    • Donald Kasper ==> In the Central Hudson Valley of New York we have regular trash and single-stream recyclables, separate rubbish bins to put out. One truck picks it all up. I used to think that they simply dumped it all together, but investigates and found out that the truck had separated compartments for each and the the single-stream recyclable actually got separated — mostly by hand, at the transfer station.

  4. “Apples, for instance, can be used in the kitchen to hasten the ripening of fruits by placing an apple along with the unripe fruit in a brown paper bag where the ethylene from the apple will collect and chemically signal ripening of the other fruit.”

    Conversely, bananas can be kept from rapidly turning soft and black by punching a few holes in each end to vent the ethylene gas.

  5. Pretty much anything thrown into the ocean soon becomes the substrate for a thriving mini ecosystem. Given that dead birds are washing up on beaches full of small pieces of plastic does anyone really know wether the ingestion of plastic has caused the death of the birds or not? Perhaps the birds are eating the plastic for the sustenance provided by the organisms living thereon and the plastic is merely passing through? I’d be happy if anyone could post a link.

    • I second that. No doubt it has some effect, but living in a hypothetical, cosmetic world doesn’t lead one to think there is much evidence. I never searched it but have looked at lots of papers on marine animals and don’t recall any. However, I looked in Marine Pollution Bulletin and it may be the new fad.

      These are the last lines of the abstracts of the 3 papers in the last volume.
      “This study indicates that cetaceans in Chinese marine areas also suffer from microplastics pollution. Further studies on the fate and ecological effects of microplastics should be conducted to reveal their potential risks to cetaceans.” “ Personal care and cosmetic products are seen as one of the microplastics sources for Malaysia and worldwide.” “As a result of this work we propose that the examination of scats from South American Fur Seal and also other pinnipeds could be an efficient tool to monitor environmental levels of microfibres and maybe microplastics in the environment due to the easy recognition of the animals and their scats.” They only found microfibres.

      https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/marine-pollution-bulletin/vol/136/suppl/C

      The word plasticity is often used in the soft sense for mud, adaptations, etc. I also suspect that turtles know the difference between jellyfish and plastic. Also goose-neck barnacles attach to plastic big enough to hold them, among lots of other objects. Lots of strange objects end up in stomachs that could serve as controls.

      A marine lab director once said to me where does all the wood go that washes up on the beach? Same could be said for plastic. While lots gets picked up in now in populated areas, glass is more dangerous. Takes longer to turn back to sand.

      • I imagine seabirds are well adapted to swallowing random objects from the ocean. When I see an activist standing over a dead gull full of plastic my BS detector starts ringing. If the plastic killed the bird how do we know?

  6. …Even burning it to make electricity or produce heat would be preferable to landfilling…

    What’s wrong with landfill? That’s where all the raw materials we use came from. Landfill should be the first option for a sustainable society…..

    • Landfill technology in the UK had advanced to the stage of discreet concrete lined cells for putrescible waste after mechanical sorting to remove recyclable materials. Designed to produce and capture methane over 9-12 years before emptying the resultant high grade compost and repeating the process.

      Totally safe, clean and environmentally friendly.

      The EU stopped this because Germany, Holland and Belgium struggled with landfill space and wanted incineration of waste reclassified as ‘recycling’. The EU obliged and issued directives which effectively ended landfill of putrescible waste. This created huge problems in the UK because nobody wants an incinerator near them and green activists opposed them wherever they were proposed.

      • Old England

        The good old EU.

        And we still can’t shake them off despite the democratic process.

        And of course, we all note that there were few objections before the Brexit referendum from the remainers as they were so smug in their complacency that they would win the vote by a landslide.

        The objections and calls for a re-run only emerged when they didn’t win by the ‘smallest of margins’. I don’t suppose they would have been screaming for a re-run had the small margin been in their favour.

      • Old England ==> Ideally, compostable waste would be composted and returned to the natural environment. There are concerns about some of the chemical components of modern foods that are better not being spread on fields and gardens. Waste management is complicated.

        • It has been noted that the collection and composting of human waste concentrated heavy metals (specifically Mercury). My childhood town used to distribute ‘sludge’ from the local water plant for use on home gardens. This was discontinued when the heavy metals were disclosed and the town had to remediate the situation.

    • dodgy geezer ==> Additives in the plastic products actually make burning a better deal for the environment– if done properly. Better to burn the plastic that was made from petrochemicals than burn virgin petrochemicals….landfilling is acceptable and far better than letting it liter the landscape and ocean.

  7. If you want to end fossil fuel use to “End the industrial capitalist system” as is the stated aim of the U.N. through people like Figueres, and through that to achieve a non-democratic socialist marxist world government, then plastics must be done away with too.

    The war on plastic with its attendant propaganda and fake news helps support the narrative that man is destroying the natural world, earth’s environment and climate -so must give up industrial activity. Mankind, in their distorted perception, is the evil destructor of mother nature.

    In contrast they worship and promote the burgeoning ‘green’ industrial complex that provides power and huge wealth to the self-styled elites and their hand-in-glove marxist-socialist partners who cloak themselves as green. The massive environmental damage being wreaked upon the earth by so-called renewables and battery manufacture is studiously ignored by them as they progress their plans to end democracy and democratic accountability.

    • POI, when I was gainfully employed with an engineering consultancy, I moved over from structures to the environment department, designing & monitoring landfill sites. We came across some information from Germany where they used partially shredded tyres at the end of the leachate ponds to filter out most of the impurities from the landfill, ponds created by rainfall/groundwater wasjing through the waste. As already said above, that awful carbon stuff yet again, we put it in our taps/fawcets for drinking water, our sewage treatement works to clean the waste water, etc, terrible stuff carbon, isn’t it? As to plastic/bags etc, here in the UK we are “encouraged” to purchase a “bag for life” from the stores/supermarkets, etc., & I was brought up through the “Don’t Litter” generation of the 60s & 70s, but it all seems to have gone a tad wayward! Roundabouts on major roads here are often the worst, at the rick of angering any lorry/truck drivers, where drivers throw there luch/snack wrappers out the window!!!! Not a pretty sight!

    • Is that Christina Figueres, that Oscar winning actress, you know, the one who can produce floods of tears at the drop of a hat, coupled with much wailing, evertime the news cameras are turned on, who will only cease such activities once she has made her millions at Globul Taxpayers’ (read Western democratic countries) expense?

  8. The Chinese, for once, may have (unintentionally) done us all a favour.
    By refusing to accept any more plastic waste for recycling, they have hugely exacerbated the problem in the short-term but have perhaps brought the issue to a head.
    There is one sensible way of managing plastic waste. Controlled incineration with domestic waste and producing useful heat energy. This is precisely the process that the usual greenie activists have succeeded in stopping in the UK for many years. Notwithstanding that it is used in such green icon countries as Germany, Austria, Switzerland etc.
    Meanwhile, even countries like India which can easily afford a space program, can’t manage an effective waste collection system. Walk round Varanasi, one of the most ancient cities in the world- but watch where you step.
    So the GWPF is absolutely right to call for the banning of the export of plastic waste. And ensure that the local councils who charge so much to households for collection and (supposedly) for proper treatment and disposal of waste actually do a competent job.
    And tell the greenies to get stuffed.

    • That “huge exacerbation” to the problem is what is creating all the headlines.
      By refusing to accept any more waste they are merely forcing the garbage scows to some other port where environmental regulations or controls are far more lax. Most of the plastic floating in the oceans is reported to come from very few African and Asian sources where environmental controls are essentially non-existent and unenforced.
      The GWFP ought to be more concerned with getting miscreant nations to clean up their act. Forcing the observant to practice self-flagellation because there are sinners in the congregation doe NOT fix the problem.

      • Rocket ==> We ought to be able to do something with our own recyclables….

        Money spent on “ocean cleanup” should be directed almost exclusively to the problems in originating countries….help them clean up their act (literally).

      • ANY mass put into a landfill can be recycled later when time, money, energy, material cost, recycling costs or need require the masses to be recycled!

        ANY mass (garbage) thrown in the oceans is effectively lost forever.

        • RACook ==> Like my several pairs of eyeglasses, one very expensive cell phone, a nice dinghy anchor (which my sons failed to tie the bitter end to the boat), a toolbox of stainless steel marine-grade tools, one at a time over a 12 year period……

  9. I think nature will solve the problem, It has only been 60 + years since plastic has been around but already there are some bacteria that can feed on them.
    Perhaps we need to give them a helping hand to evolve.

  10. I should perhaps invite plastics research scientists to examine the particular conditions in my loft, where plastic bags used to store items regularly disintegrate and turn to dust.

        • As an engineer I still use a plastic scale rule on construction drawings whether CAD or hand drawn (rare I know & a dying art form)! The number of times I’ve come across a poorly drawn element with the wrong scale on it, makes for interesting challenges on a construction site!!!!

          • I personally favor my bamboo core, plastic edged scales … they just look and feel better. And I can feeeeeeel better too knowing I’ve consumed “less” plastic, and more of a “renewable” organic … bamboo.

    • Gary ==> Anti-plastic propaganda has been intentionally (and maliciously) added to the K-6 curricula all across the United States. All part of the rather sickening mix of progressivism/liberalism/inclusionism/ social-justice-isms…..almost entirely anti-science stuff and nonsense.

  11. Too simplistic dismissal of plastics in the sea. “Degradation” is misleading if understood as a passage to inevitable breakdown into eventual non-existence or non-reactive. And using examples from non-marine sites is also misleading since sea water can produce unique molecular groupings (carbonyls) on reactive places of sea “degrading” with UV exposure;
    in contrast degrading plastic exposed to air & UV will only present hydroxyl groups.

    Degrading plastic particles can be coated by sea water’s nulcleic acids, polysacharides, colloids, lipids, proteins, minerals, ions & micro-organisms. In some instances this nebula
    associated with a micro-plastic particle will cause even greater uptake of the modified micro-plastic assemblage by certain sea life; in other situations a micro-plastic which developed some such corona of assemblage can be relatively toxic when taken in by some organsim.

    • Any chance of expressing this in terms that a layman like me might understand.
      It would also be helpful to explain whether the toxicity kills the ingesting organism or is passed on up the food chain.
      I would also like to know if this is speculation or if there is some proof that it is a common occurrence.

      • There is a distinction between seaborne degraded plastics with a negative charge & positive charge. For example see the free full text available on-line cited below.

        Positive charged (cationic) ones that get down to nano-sizes with amino acids picked up to them are able to follow an organism’s protein uptake mechanism inside.

        The negatively charged (anionic) ones whose carbonyl (which is a C atom double bonded to an O atom) gets an OH group (hydoxyl) attatched to it’s C atom then forms a carboxyl. Since the H atom is weakly bound the H+ proton can get disassociated leaving a carboxylate anion. Without that H+ the molecular dynamics (relative to the carbonyl’s O atom) involving the negative charge of the O atom still there favors an array that resists oxidation (giving up electron) breakdown. In simple terms that kind of exposed molecular facet on degrading plastic confers it some stability & also the capability of agreggating with other degrading microscopic plastic (a potential niche
        as mentioned in earlier comment).

        See (2017) journal Aquatic Toxicology pdf of Bergami, et al’s “Long-term toxicity of surface-charged polystyrene nanoplatics to marine planktonic species Dunaliella tertiolecta and Artemia fraciscana”. Their cited references have some more specific
        cases

    • gringojay ==> Don’t quite get your point. Life is magnificently adaptable and can turn nearly any organic molecule combination into other organics. Many organics are intentionally toxic to other life forms. What role pelagic plastic plays in this drama, other than as a floating platform, is not clear – and not any clearer from your comment above. can you clarify and expand?

      • Hi Kip, – Histological changes can be seen in gut microvilla (Fig 4), liver nuclei alter & produced liver vaculoles (Fig7) & activity differences (Fig 9) for example in this 2018 research. Try this free full text link : https://www.nature.com/articls/s41598-017-18849-y

        The viewpoint that plastics can degrade is not the only fate that is relevant. In some of those cases they interact with other things/organisms, which complicates their role.

        • gringo ==> I would advise reading the study thoroughly — and looking at the (hopefully undoctored) photos. The study was about nano- – microplastics — intentionally tiny — in fairy massive quantities. The researchers themselves say “albeit because of high experimental dosages” for all effects witnessed. Controls were all plain fresh water and not other contaminants of a similar size — so it tells us nothing special about plastic (and there is not a lot of especially florescent nano-plastic floating around) only about what tiny hard bits in high concentrations do to very small animals.

          It may say something about nano-particle pollutants. They are not finding nano-sized plastic free floating — it disappears, at least in the oceans, below a certain size, see Oceans of Plastic.

          • Kip- Yes, I know the authors specified they used high amounts, so true the cited study can only be deemed illustrative. Maybe subsequent reasearchers will publish histological slides detailing permutations of smaller amounts to demonstrate a cut off amount for different microplastic particles.

            I am not actually panicked about plastic in the environment & do not claim microplastics cause fatality to every ocean dwelling organism. Readers here at WUWT may have the impression I am alarmed over modern condition, yet I am not & usually am trying to show there is some interesting science for those who might be put off by “pronouncements”.

            However to say “it disappears in the ocean” obscures the instances where it might have went into an organism. It doesn’t seem necessary to trawl the ocean & immediately
            process those samples as the only way to demonstrate some microplastics out there get into living organisms.

            Flourescence is not meant to be a microplastic particle’s aspect when out in the ocean. Curious to read your making mention of it as reseach design concern, since it is basically only a tactic employed yo visually show up (or not) something.

          • gringo ==> You are aware of the studies that show that microbes of various types actually eat the small plastic bits….we’re not talking multicell critters ingesting it as in the nano-plastics studies — we are talking microbes that eat the plastic as food, like those that ate the oil from the Horizon spill.

  12. Gringojay
    No-one is ‘dismissing plastics in the sea’

    And ‘scientists’ have only themselves to blame for the fact that the educated public are extremely sceptical about the shroudwaving pronouncements of rent-seeking, venal, hypocritical and politically partisan ‘scientists’.

  13. Degradation of plastic is, for some items, a glorious thing…

    Just think of all the ‘controversial’ art made from the 1950s onward. Yes thankfully so much of it is just decaying away. From 1940, artists began using plastic-based material that was a far different from the oil-based paints used by painters of old. These brightly colored plastic paint turn out to be far more fragile, having chemical bonds break relatively easily. Conservators are now quite perplexed as to how to ‘save’ some of these over-bright daubings and other worthy art, as historical techniques of conservation can no longer be relied upon. Additional problems arise where old masters have been ‘conserved’ using modern (plastic based) varnish, paints and pigments. (See https://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2016/03/are-acrylics-and-other-plastics-decaying.html)
    Acrylic paints are relatively soft and gummy even when dried on to canvas, they attack dust and dirt which in turn encourages many microbes to live on this surface. Mold growth has been noted on acrylic paintings and has become an increasing concern among artists and collectors. Unfortunately, there is no ideal treatment that does not cause some degree of damage to the original paint.

    And from https://blog.redbubble.com/2014/09/when-do-art-materials-expire/ there is —

    Acrylic Paint

    Like gouache, acrylics run the same risk of developing mold and drying out. Acrylic paint is a synthetic-based material so it can’t “expire” like a piece of organic matter can. That being said, in terms of materials that will most noticeably become un-useable, Acrylics are big offenders and dry out very fast.

    And even your home with it’s plastic paint covered walls, plastic doors and window frames, and many construction materials will not last. What is the life expectancy of that plastic adhesive, or plastic foam filler when some fungal mold or algae takes a liking to it? Not as long as the makers originally thought is the probable answer.

  14. With respect to how our local community is (or isn’t) doing its part, I would say that my “local community” – the United States of America – has come a very, very long way since I was young.

    In August of 1956, the very first federal contract for an interstate highway was awarded in my home state of Missouri. I was two years old at the time. The system grew quickly, and with it grew the cultural phenomenon of family vacations via road trip. All of America opened up, and families would hit the highways for two weeks at a time, going places they might never have visited. It was very cost effective, though not very time efficient. Low cost, safe air travel has largely supplanted the road trip.

    I remember all of our family road trips vividly. The one image that stands out in my mind was what the road sides looked like: they were covered in trash. For some reason, Americans adopted the practice of simply throwing trash out of the car as it was generated. “Litter” doesn’t begin to describe the situation. It was like driving through a landfill.

    First Lady – uh – Lady Bird Johnson began a campaign to Beautify America. In September 1965, President Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act. It was a wake-up call to America, and quickly turned the highways from trash heaps into what we see today.

    Anyone born after 1965 will have difficulty imagining the magnitude of the problem, and the truly amazing change that Ms. Johnson’s campaign wrought. The environmental movement of the early 1970s sealed the deal, and the cleanup of this country proceeded in earnest. We’re doing very, very well today, IMHO.

    • That reminds me of the old Steve Martin joke, always carry a litter bag in the car, when it gets filled up you can just toss it out the window.

    • Michael Kelly ==> Ah, Lady Bird Johnson — we still carry a litter bag in the car, always, and everything unwanted goes into it. Not very pretty, but better than throwing things out the window.

      Lady Bird also was responsible for eliminating the view-blocking billboards. And, unfortunately, the Burma Shave signs.

      • Hmmmn.

        the Cook family uses those handy, recyclable small sanitary plastic grocery bags. You know, the ones than be thrown away when they get dirty from the trash put therein? 8<)

  15. THANK YOU! (“Plastics degrade”) As someone who did not have access to a garage, I can attest to how quickly even the thickest hard plastic can degrade to powder in a vehicle. I was finding it necessary to cover the armrests and side paneling in my vehicle with vinyl upholstery material so people wouldn’t get the dust all over their clothing. I can’t help but wonder where people get the idea that plastics last forever.

    • 4Times ==> I believe auto manufacturers are now using newer, longer lasting plastics in dashboards and armrests. Disposal of old autos and their plastic parts is not a rising concern. I think they should be incinerated, whole, and the metal recovered at the bottom of the furnace.

  16. The hard part is to keep it from degrading. UV breaks it down, and some plastics are quicker than others. UV inhibitors have to be added to plastics for the outdoors. Even then, don’t expect your patio furniture to last 10 years before you hurt yourself.
    /used to be a technical salesman for thermoplastic screws and barrels – screws that can be 40′ long and 12″ in diameter!

  17. I live near the area of my town where all the recycling centers are located (metal, wood, paper, plastics). I live in central New Jersey down by a large bay that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The computer and electronics center is never open. These centers are always full but the metal and wood areas do move stuff on. I go down there to bring my aluminum cans and they give me some money for it. You can only get money for metals. The plastics center is growing. They compress the plastic into bales and then store them in very rickety looking warehouses made of cheap metal. They just keep adding more additions to the warehouses to contain the increasing plastics. It looks like they are kicking the plastic bottle down the road.

    • Lois ==> The plastic bales used to be shipped to China, but they have begun to change the rules on what they will accept. So much of the recyclable plastic is stalled here in the States at present. Some commenters have linked to the story on this above.

  18. This whole recycling scam is based on the premise that food grade plastic becomes toxic after use and that our used packaging materials are some how worth money to someone.

  19. Based on the “climate-relevant trace gases” that are emitted what plastic degrades, it sounds like we should be encouraging an increase in plastics production. Plastics act as an efficient sink, taking these compounds out of general environment and storing them for a period of time. True, it’s not forever. But perhaps it will help get us over the hump until we, you know, convert to 100% renewable energy and stuff.

    So ask Starbucks for that extra straw.

  20. Plastic is a controversial issue for the very reasons that so many modern goods (and their packaging) are made from plastic: it is malleable, it is moldable, it can be both stiff and strong and flexible and bendable, most plastics stand up well to sunshine, it is impervious to water and many strong bases and acids, it can be clear as pure water or totally opaque and can be made in every color imaginable. In short, it is a miracle class of materials. One side effect is that it tends to persist when allowed to enter the environment.

    “Yup”, …… one side effect of plastic is that it tends to persist when allowed to enter the environment.

    Well, …… SURPRISE, SURPRISE, ……. one side effect of concrete, bricks, steel and aluminum is that they tend to persist when allowed to enter the environment.

    Thus, the question is, which one(s) of the above (plastic, concrete, bricks, steel and aluminum) can our modern society afford to do without?

    https://i.ytimg.com/vi/BM_WZx7jnOc/maxresdefault.jpg

    See more @
    https://duckduckgo.com/?q=abamdoned+factories&t=h_&ia=images&iax=images

      • Thanks, KH, …… can’t say that I’m pleased, …… but I’m not surprised either.

        Such protestors reminds me of a cartoon in a magazine that I seen many years ago which portrayed a man on the street, dressed in a long black robe, carrying a sign above his head that read …… “THIS SPACE FOR RENT”.

        Cheers

  21. It is amazing that the word plastic in these discussions is used without thought that there are several types of plastic with different degradation pathways. Example: PTFE is wildly different to polyethylene. The relative volumes of the different types is relevant too. The longer lived plastics are generally more expensive and used in much lower volumes.

    • Richard Hill ==> It is the media and propaganda outlets that fail to use proper terms and proper distinctions between the actual plastics used. The bad news is that the most used plastics [polyethylene (grocery bags), polypropylene (fishing nets) or polyterephthalate (single-use bottles)] won’t be able to be re-designed to self-destruct.

  22. Only greenies could posit that something designed to be put in your eye becomes a significant hazard if you flush in down the toilet instead.
    It’s a sign of the times, I guess.

    • Hart ==> Very Good! I only really got your comment after reading it on my fifth pass through the comment section….kh

  23. “two fragments of contact lenses per nine pounds of waste material, then those two fragments or the substances that the fragments may have picked up in your toilet water or at the waste water treatment plant may be washed into surface water…. May the gods of conjecture have pity on us all!”

    Ah yes!
    It’s the theory and practice of contagion.
    Echoes of the days when cooties and a boy’s touch were deadly to all involved.

    You have to love the physical evidence; “fragments” of contacts. From “fragments” they extrapolate vast dangers of alleged potential contagion…

    Bureaucrats rewrite regulations, until they reach an optimum regulation that prevents all possibility whether in the past, the present or the future. That it is possible and might happen somehow, is sufficient cause for them to drag civilization down.

    Sunlight, oxygen, bacteria, and erosion all degrade plastics.
    Even the high density high quality long lived plastics will degrade into dust. As dust it forms a fairly neutral substrate excellent for soil aeration and drainage.

    Eventually, as most surface materials on Earth, it will be tectonically recycled. Who knows, those contact pieces might be formed into diamonds in the mantle.

    Defund those researchers that produced this trash idea, “research presented at the American Chemical Society’s August meeting in Boston.
    Fire the bureaucrats producing regulations about this nonsense and delete anything that regulates precautionary potential possible maybe contagion.

  24. I have always said let’s net together all the plastics we can and set it a drift in the ocean. With in months you would have every form of life growing living and thriving on these floating islands and before to long we could be booking wildlife get always to millions on these islands. Of course that would only last until they degraded to the point that totally fall apart.

    • Bob boder ==> It has been my experience that everything solid(-ish) thing that ends up in the seas becomes a home or food for something (sometimes both, for the same or different life forms).

      If you want to see tropical fish, just sunk a boat or a used tank, or a battleship, or old cars in water less than100 feet and “Instant Reef!”. Even isolated rocks the size of a football collect a school of fish.

  25. My brother has a 57 Ford Thunderbird which he bought in 57. He will attest to the fact that plastics do not last forever. He has replaced many pieces several times. And it is in a garage more than 90% of the time.

  26. You do know what is among Earth’s first plastics happens to be, don’t you? ;p Hint … the polymer has ‘sugar’ units and its binder is an aromatic resin. The common name for it starts with “w”.

  27. I’m going to try and find the link to a story I read yesterday concerning mosquitoes and either micro beads or degraded plastics. The overall concern is the larvae ingest the small particles which don’t leave their stomachs. Eventually, the plastic gets transferred from the grown mosquito into a victim where it stays FOREVER because plastic lives forever. I thought it was cheap entertainment for a non problem.

  28. Hi Kip, Thanks, good post. My community in Texas has had single line recycling for over 30 years. We used to have a large recycling center that sorted everything and sold or gave away the sorted materials to companies that actually used them. We all knew to clean our plastic, paper, etc. or it would go in the landfill, as well as anything touching the dirty recyclables. Good system.

    Then we started exporting our recyclables, as did most cities, to the third world. They paid a good price and had fewer restrictions, dirty recyclables were OK. What we didn’t know, was that the third world countries (mostly China and Vietnam) were dumping the dirty stuff into rivers and the ocean. They only attempt to recycle the good stuff. In the meantime the dirty portion of the recyclables (including dirty diapers) increased to over 25% of the total, by volume.

    I vote for properly designed incinerators (as they use in Europe) and that we go back to taking care of our own trash.

    • Andy ==> Me too (sarc)…. incineration leaves us with only the ash problem. Ashes to concrete building blocks?

      I thought automobiles might be incinerated whole….and the metals collected at the end of the cycle.

    • D Andersen ==> Poor Woody et al…..

      In contrast, the dolly I made for my first child, out of a bit of cloth left over from my wife’s making her first dress, is still like news (except for child-wear….).

  29. “Even burning it to make electricity or produce heat would be preferable to landfilling — but this must be done in a properly designed high-temperature clean-coal-type plant or a municipal waste fueled power plant. Again, most of the problems with burning plastic is not the plastic itself, but additives in the plastic products. High-temperature incineration coupled with flue gas treatments to reduce pollutants is a reasonable and efficient approach.”

    Plastics are energy dense sources to fuel municipal waste to electricity. Environmental activists lawsuits bogged down the planning and funding for such electricity generation. Nagging whittling away at the timely implementation dragged out the financing of these projects such that municipal governments abandoned them altogether. The problem that the waste to electricity programs were to solve now accumulate with land fill space becoming scarce.

    Has environmental activism been harmful to cities? In this case…yes.

  30. Some artists don’t like the modern acrylic paints, referring to them as a “plastic”. Are they?

    As for degrading, it is said acrylics do stand the test of time until now. They are there for about 70 yrs now. Testing in the laboratory even promises possible durability for centuries.

      • So far I see 3 links here that give a reference to texts in which the word “acrylic” can be found, all be it just sporadic or just once. Apart from the general context that places the acrylics in the plastic realm in these links, they don’t offer offer any specifics about acrylics themselves. So for me the question remains, is acrylic really a plastic in the sense of this post? Googling learns me acrylics belong in the broad category of plastics. But that doesn’t tell me a lot about its stability over time. I would think not all “plastics” are equal in durability.

        I do know very traditional and/or very professional producers of top-class artist paints that do offer acrylics in their assortment, and the high pigmented ones may be very expensive indeed (Golden comes to mind). And a lot of professional artists do use them and trust them.

        As for myself, I use acrylics now for say 20 years, and I am not aware of any deteriorating as can be easily observed in other “household” plastics.

      • This link is more specific about “acrylic polymers” being used by artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Mark Rothko. This leaves me the task finding out more about this. I do remember an early batch of acrylic paint by Talens also called “polymers” they stopped producing. So I guess there is not just one kind of “acrylic”. The problem being of course the producers keep their secrets.

    • Bill ==> Good old Shel — a Nashville hack songwriter — him and a hundred others — like Kris Kristofferson. Also a passable comic and writer of children’s books — and not unfamiliar to readers of Playboy magazine style comic essays.

    • Rich Lambert ==> Absolutely correct! Glass is forever!

      I have glass samples that are millions of years old in my rock and mineral collection — volcanic obsidian picked up off the ground in California — much of it black, some brown and some clear as a crystal wine glass. As shiny as the day it hardened.

      We all have seen pictures of wine bottles recovered from sunken ships hundreds of years old.

  31. Waxworms eat plastics —
    “In 2014, Wu and colleagues at Stanford University found that a gut bacterium in another species of wax worm could break down polyethylene, although it had different byproducts. A 2016 study identified the enzymes in a species of bacteria that could break down a type of plastic called (polyethylene terephthalate).
    “There are probably lots of other worm species out there that can degrade plastics,” he said.”

    https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/04/wax-worms-eat-plastic-polyethylene-trash-pollution-cleanup/

    Yeast consume plastics —
    https://www.ibtimes.com/yeast-breaks-down-biodegradable-plastic-research-376872

    Scientists Just Discovered Plastic-Eating Bacteria That Can Break Down PET (polyethylene terephthalate)
    https://www.sciencealert.com/new-plastic-munching-bacteria-could-fuel-a-recycling-revolution

    But unlike natural polymers (such as cellulose in plants) plastics aren’t generally biodegradable. Bacteria and fungi co-evolved with natural materials, all the while coming up with new biochemical methods to harness the resources from dead matter.
    But plastics have only been around for about 70 years. So microorganisms simply haven’t had much time to evolve the necessary biochemical tool kit to latch onto the plastic fibers, break them up into the constituent parts and then utilize the resulting chemicals as a source of energy and carbon that they need to grow.

    I do know from bitter experience that termites WILL all manner of construction plastics — from PVC and HD-polyethene, to Acrylics. I suspect they’ll have a go at just about anything.
    However nature being nature it will not allow a high calorie meal like plastics go to waste, I predict that in a few years (probably less than a decade) with a little help from man, plastic eating critters will be gorging themselves on our piles of plastic trash.
    Left alone they’d probably get there by themselves it just would take longer and subjected to the usual normal hit and miss approach that nature tends to take.

    By the way is the any evidence that the macro-micro-nano particles of plastic in the oceans are actually harming anything? I suspect, just like the bacteria that flourished during an oil spill, there are probably something (bacteria, algae, diatoms, etc.) in the oceans proliferating now as these plastic particles rain down on them.

  32. Our landfill uses all of that stuff to generate electricity. The municipal landfill folks pile it hundreds of feet high and then harvest the gases in the base of the pile to run turbines. The turbines run 24/7. They used to just burn it off but now it’s fuel. Plastics, garbage, wood, etc. Everything I suppose excepts for metals? I drive right by the hum of the generators when I go to the brush pile to dump my palmetto fronds and other limbs and leaves.

  33. “That said — Throw your disposable contacts in the trash, please. Don’t flush them (or any other rubber and plastic personal products). ” No you should not flus them but when you throw then in the trash most trash end up in a landfill. Landfill are the stupidest piece of environment destruction man has ever come up with, burying biodegradable mater and metal denies them oxygen and when the cannot degrade and oxidize quickly the migrate to ground water making a manageable problem into an unmanageable problem. Landfill will be and are the next great man made environment disaster.

    • Mark Luhman ==> Landfills are an improvement over what my Grandfather had — which was a dump in a ravine behind the barn on his farm. Every farm had a dump or tip site — better one managed landfill than a million little open air dumps and trash all over the landscape.

      When I was a lad in the 1950s, living in Los Angeles, all the backyards still had incinerators — a burning barrel or a proper brick incinerator with a ten foot chimney. Everything that would burn was burnt in it, then the ashes were placed on the curb for pickup in small special ash cans. Hence, the 1950s/1960s LA SMOG.

      Better a proper full-sized waste-fuel municipal incinerator/power plant than a million back-yard incinerators.

      There are few, if any, perfect solutions to modern problems.

    • No you should not flus them but when you throw then in the trash most trash end up in a landfill. Landfill are the stupidest piece of environment destruction man has ever come up with, burying biodegradable mater and metal denies them oxygen and when the cannot degrade and oxidize quickly the migrate to ground water making a manageable problem into an unmanageable problem. Landfill will be and are the next great man made environment disaster.

      No! Third-World “solutions” (throwing wastes away in trash dumps and discharging sewer into the rivers and bays) and Third World landfills ARE the CURRENT man-made environmental disaster. But US-UK landfills ARE NOT Third World open-air sewers and trash piles.

      To repeat:
      ANY mass put into a landfill can be recycled later when time, money, energy, material cost, recycling costs or need require the masses to be recycled!

      ANY mass (garbage) thrown in the oceans is effectively lost forever.

  34. Beautiful article and beautiful discussion.

    The basic question is “what is responsible manner?”; has anybody seen the plastic degrade in open? How many years it take to degrade in open?

    Re-use and recycle adds up the waste but incineration reduces the waste accumulation. Biomedical waste is disposed using incineration. Hazardous industrial waste [high TDS] is disposed using incineration. In power production waste production could be reduced [domestic waste that includes plastics].

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    • Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy ==> “has anybody seen the plastic degrade in open?” We certainly have….anyone who gets outside, volunteers to pick up trash on the roadside or the beaches, anyone that has lived extensively on the sea or in tropical climates especially.

      Single-use shopping bags break down in a single year if in the sunshine, a little longer if partially buried or under brush — soda/water bottles take only a little longer before they break apart when picked up. Once the plastic is either exposed to sunlight or soil microbes, is begins its organic demise.

      Landfilling, re-use/recycling, and incineration are all appropriate under the right circumstances. Managing these types of problems is not easy — but actually doing something — any of the three — is far better than the massive neglect seen in some poorer nations — who, granted, have far bigger problems that need their attention.

      • Kip Hansen — I lived for several years by the side of sea [Visakhapatnam in India, Maputo in Mozambique] and I am living [born also] in tropical climates.

        I am one of the main environmental activists in Hyderabad where the plastic menace is severe. Aerial survey show all around the city plastics along with garbage. For years we have not seen plasic degrading. Same is the case in landfill sites.

        Some states in India are laying plastic roads.

        Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

        • Dr. Reddy ==> You need to investigate the obvious disconnect between what your personal experience is telling you and the experience of others and the findings of so many well-done scientific studies.

          I doubt very much that physics and chemistry is different in Hyderabad.

          Keep in mind that not all “plastic” is the same– there are many general types and they all have different physical characteristics. Nonetheless, I don’t think there is anything special about Indian plastic that protects it some its many enemies — UV, heat, microbes, etc.

          What I did to educate myself is I went out on the sea and the beaches in tropical and semi-tropical climes and picked up and looked at stuff. I have been out on the roadsides of North America and picked up and collected plastic litter. Some of my observations are written up in An Ocean of Plastic including photos of degrading and degraded plastic.

          If you find that plastic litter in Hyderabad does not begin degrade somewhat in the Sun after a year or so — samples should be taken and sent to a lab — you have found everlasting magical plastic!

          Seriously, what I suspect is that the plastic litter is “self-replacing” — so much new plastic litter shows up that there is always new looking plastic laying around — this is common to many countries I have visited. Even here in the more northerly latitudes of New York state, when my volunteer group does roadside cleanups, we find the plastic litter often breaks apart as we try to pick it up — as the sun has had its way with it. We cleanup the same roadside twice a year, so the plastic that we find crumbling in our hands has only been out there six months to a year — no more than that. Some types of plastic last longer — but it all shows some degradation.

          Even my UV-protected HDPE fuel jerrycans show some degradation after a number of years — not a lot, but some.

          • When you present a report, your replies to comments follows the Warmists on global warming and denigrates commenter’s views. It is a bad practice.

            Road sweepers burnt the garbage that includes plastics. This gives obnoxious odour as plastics release “Dioxin” a health hazardous gas;

            When plastics mix with domestic garbage, at dump sites the new always overlaps the old. It is natural system. If you dig, you find no change in plastics. If the plastics are in the soil, it affects the infiltration of rainwater. When they are dumped into nalas they create flood problems in heavy rainfall. When we remove silt from the nalas, the plastics are intact while the other wastes become compost. In the ocean, also follow this, as above the sea water relative humidity is high and water waves will deflect the Sun rays and Sun’s energy reflected back by the white surface of the plastics like in the case of ice. Energy available to burn plastics is reduced.

            When my grandson visits me [he lives in San Francisco], he tries to burn the paper using magnifying glass. It burns the paper because the Sun’s rays are concentrated with more energy. When paper is put on open surface exposed to direct Sun Rays present no burning action for days/years. When the paper is put in the garbage it turns in to compost as it degrades.

            Because of these practical problems, to reduce the accumulation of plastics in the environment: (1) some companies encouraging students to collect the plastics in their neighbourhood and in turn they get money by weight. These are used in laying roads. Some are recycled and re-used, biomedical waste that includes plastics is incinerated.

            Hotfoods are carried in plasic bags — some suggested not to use plastic below certain microns as they release certain gases. Here the heat is different from Sun’s energy.

            Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

          • Dr. Reddy ==> Plastic does degrade slower in dark anaerobic conditions — such as when it is buried in landfills. You mustn’t be impatient. Nature has its way and will deal with it.

            It is far better to recycle or burn plastic waste than to landfill it — but also far better to landfill than to let it escape into the natural environment.

            For the most part, all large plastic items that float on the sea degrade into small plastic bits which are subsequently eaten entirely by microbials. Not floating items sink to the bottom of the sea and become part of the environment — slowly being attacked by natural processes and critters — the same as every other fairly long-lasting material — they cause no known harm there despite the fact that they do not belong there.

            Bottom Line: collect and recycle plastic (and all other reusable materials)…if that is not possible, burn the waste in a proper high-temp power plant with flue stack gas washing….if that is not possible, landfill in a properly engineered landfill.

  35. Back in the late 1990s, our state merged two of its three environmental agencies. The new management came from our agency and had a lot to learn about how the other agency had operated for years. The other agency had always acted like liberal elitists and the rest of the world was beneath them. For over a decade much of the state outside the Capitol and rural counties had mandatory curbside recycling. It had been a bit of a stink between local governments and this environmental state agency over the years. Well at the first senior management meeting after the merger one of the primary topics of discussion was what to do with the recycled materials. It turns out that state had been paying millions to store the stuff even though the law said, and the agency had promised, there were “really good markets” for all recycles, especially plastic.

    Wind turbines and solar arrays have killed and will kill way, way more birds and other wildlife than all the plastics.

    • Edwin ==> Thanks for the local story and personal experience. It is a complicated problem for a lot of localities.

  36. Epilogue:

    Very interesting discussion on some of the related topics. Waste Management is a big issue and a big problem in many parts of the world. Feral plastic — pelagic plastic — originates mostly in the poorer countries of Africa and Southeast Asia, where municipal waste management must stand line behind many other higher priorities for funding. The richer nations should direct their funding for plastic pollution to preventing it at the source rather than spending millions on mad-cap schemes to retrieve pelagic plastic.

    There is some conflation of “plastic pollution” with the problem of nano-particle pollution. My view is that nano-particles of plastic, when found in the wild (oceans, lakes) are microbe food and quickly consumed by hydrocarbon-eating microbes, which have been found to be eating the plastic in the oceans. Nano-particles of plastic will have very high surface area to volume ratios and thus be quickly reduced entirely. There are photos of the microbes at work on plastic surfaces in my previous essay “An Ocean of Plastic“. The same essay shows the research that indicates that very small particles of plastic, so far, have not been recovered from the oceans — when when specifically looked for. I think they have been eaten.

    I appreciate the interest shown in this issue — if you live near beaches, a pleasant morning or afternoon can be spent walking the beach with a bag into which you can place any plastic bits you find in it and drop it in the rubbish bin at the parking lot. Same if hiking a mountain or park trail, a single-use shopping bag fits easily in the tiniest place in your backpack or pocket, and can be filled with litter as you go.

    Thanks for reading.

  37. Years ago I worked for a company the produced equipment that used drilling fluid. There were problems in some areas with the disposal of the excess fluid. As a result I talked to a landfill manager in California. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but he said, “You have to remember that what I deal with is 90% politics and 10% science.”

  38. 90% of all plastic in the oceans comes from 10 major rivers: 8 in Asia and 2 in Africa.
    Cleaning up those rivers would remove 90% off plastic pollution in the oceans.
    What is being done to address this problem? Nothing, just virtue signaling in Europe.
    https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/assets/Image/saw0218Adva32_d.png
    http://notrickszone.com/2018/05/29/latest-euro-delusion-eu-wants-us-to-believe-it-can-rescue-oceans-by-removing-less-than-0-01-of-the-plastic/

    • Lars ==> Yes….those are the hard facts. Aid money being spent to “remove” plastic from the oceans is wasted — as existing plastic will soon get eaten up. Tracking and removing masses of old fishing nets, if they can be spotted by satellite, is not a terrible idea, they are a threat to shipping.

      All aid money on this issue should go to stopping plastic at the known hot spot inputs — upstream at the source in your 10 ten major rivers.

  39. TY Kip

    A reasonable perspective and a well written piece.

    Takeaways :
    Plastics are NOT forever
    Pick up your trash
    Perhaps find a useful repurpose for it

    As usual RESIST the hoi polloi’s desire to have us REACT to their stimulus without evidence.

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