Plastics: Science is Winning

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen — 18 October 2019

 

where_does_it_goScience is beginning to win in the long battle over misinformed anti-plastic advocacy.  It has been a long time coming.  The most recent paper on the subject of pelagic plastic (plastic floating in the oceans) is from a scientific team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The study is “Sunlight Converts Polystyrene to Carbon Dioxide and Dissolved Organic Carbon” by Collin P. Ward, Cassia J. Armstrong, Anna N. Walsh, Julia H. Jackson and Christopher M. Reddy.   It is good basic science.

styrene_cupsWe are all familiar with polystyrene — it is prevalent in modern packaging, both as a solid,  such as yoghurt cups, or in expanded form used for disposable foam drink cups.  Much of the plastic flotsam found on the worlds beaches and floating  in rivers is this ubiquitous plastic, particularly the expanded foam.

The new abstract of the new study starts with this:

“ABSTRACT:   Numerous international governmental agencies that steer policy assume that polystyrene persists in the environment for millennia.  Here, we show that polystyrene is completely photochemically oxidized to carbon dioxide and partially photochemically oxidized to dissolved organic carbon. Lifetimes of complete and partial photochemical oxidation are estimated to occur on centennial and decadal time scales, respectively. These lifetimes are orders of magnitude faster than biological respiration of polystyrene and thus challenge the prevailing assumption that polystyrene persists in the environment for millennia.”   [ bolding mine — kh ]

It is about time that someone scientifically challenged the activist position held and promulgated by many environmental, anti-plastics and anti-corporate groups that “Plastic is Forever”.

Plastic is not forever.  Glass, both natural and man-made,  is forever, but not plastic.

What are plastics?

 Plastics are hydrocarbons.    That is, plastics are primarily made of hydrogen and carbon combined into various configurations.   And, when Nature adds oxygen and nitrogen, we get the substance of all living things (that we know of).  People, plants, animals, microbes, petroleum, natural gas, dead leaves, peat bogs — basically everything that was once alive (and some that weren’t) are made of hydrogen and carbon and oxygen and nitrogen strung together, with little bits of other elements.

Hydrocarbons, strictly, contain only hydrogen and carbon.  Many of the building blocks of plants are hydrocarbons — like cellulose.  Cellulose, the material that makes up the structural part of most plants,  was the basic ingredient that was used to make the first synthetic plastics in the mid-1800s.

The thing that makes plastics plastic [plasticity — the ability to deform without breaking] is that its basic building blocks — carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached — are combined into long chains  — often twirled into spirals with other elements tacked in, looking like this:

polyethylene

Here we see the common plastic, polyethylene,  made up of  a string of H-C-H bits strung together to make the typical long plastic chain.

Why review all this chemistry? 

 Plastics are, at heart, very simple natural structures — carbon atoms bonded with hydrogen atoms.  They are not Frankensteinian monstrosities made by chemical madmen through arcane alchemy.

And, as we will see, because they are quite natural, they are not indestructible but susceptible to the normal paths of entropy in the natural world.

Plastics are Food

Not food for you and I, but food for the tiniest of plants and animals.  Because plastics are hydrocarbons,  they make good food for living things, which oxidize hydrocarbons for energy and use them for the building blocks of their bodies.

With the oil in the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010, it was found that “Naturally occurring microbes at this depth are highly specialized in growing by using specific components of the oil for their food source.”   Microbes ate a great deal of the 4.1 million barrels of crude oil that poured into the Gulf of Mexico.

disappearing_bitsWith pelagic plastics (plastics floating in the open oceans) it has also been found that as the plastic items  become  degraded by the sun, they break into smaller and smaller pieces through the action of the wind and the waves. The illustration shows what they found  when sieving the ocean for floating plastic    Intuitively, the number of pieces at various sizes should continue to increase as items breaking into smaller and smaller pieces but  instead  they found numbers to begin decreasing at about 5 mm and drop off dramatically when items become smaller than 1 mm — approaching zero at less than 0.5 mm.   This is not for lack of trying, the sieves are very fine.  In the real world, when the pieces get down below the 1 millimeter size they rapidly disappear altogether.

microbesWhat happens to these little pieces?  Microbes eat them up entirely.

Of course, the plastic-eating microbes have been eating away at the surfaces of the floating plastic all along, but when the pieces get very small, the surface area to volume ratio factor allows the microbes to win out and consume the entire little piece, like a tiny ice chip that rapidly disappears in a glass of water (whereas a larger ice cube persists).

( see my fuller explanation here )

This interesting news is not unique, another paper confirms that microbes are eating the plastic film that ends up in the oceans, stating:  “…tailored marine consortia have the ability to thrive in the presence of mixtures of plastics and participate in their degradation.”

Last year, scientists in Japan discovered bacteria that was eating PET plastic — the plastic that those clear soda and water bottles are made of — and another group discovered an enzyme that breaks down PET.  Of course, “ Waxworm caterpillars have been found to break down plastic in a matter of hours, and mealworms possess gut microbes that eat through polystyrene. Beckham [Gregg Beckham, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory] thinks, given how ubiquitous environmental pollution has become, “it is likely that microbes are evolving faster and better strategies to break down man-made plastics. It seems that nature is evolving solutions.”

It is not just bacteria and ocean-dwelling critters that are eating plastic:

 “In 2017, Khan and a team of other scientists collected a sample of a previously undiscovered strain of fungus on top of a garbage dump in Islamabad, Pakistan. When they took it back to China to study in the laboratory, the species of fungus, a previously undiscovered strain of the species Aspergillus tubingensis, was able to break down polyurethane—common in industrial settings and used in refrigerators, fake leather, and many other applications—in just weeks instead of decades. The fungus secretes enzymes that break down the plastic’s chemical bonds and uses its mycelia—filaments fungi grow that are much like a plant’s roots—to break apart the plastic further.”

Back to the latest study….

Anyone who has participated in a roadside cleanup (a popular volunteer activity in the United States) or helped to collect trash off the beaches knows that foam drink cups left in the sun for any length of time break down and literally fall apart when one tries to pick them up.

cups_to_CO2This is precisely what the new study found.  More importantly, it is not just that the structure of the foam breaks down, the substance of the foam “is completely photo-chemically oxidized to carbon dioxide and partially photo-chemically oxidized to dissolved organic carbon.”  In essence, the hydrocarbon-based plastic simply breaks back down into CO2 and organic carbon dissolved in water.  How long does it take?  This study estimates time scales of a decade to centuries.

sieved_plasticIn my personal experience, I have found foam drink cups to degrade to the point of “breaking to pieces when touched” in a single summer in the direct sun.  As for pelagic Starbucks cups, I have never found a foam drink cup floating on the open sea (whereas I have found plenty on the shores of islands without proper garbage collection and disposal).  The absence of floating foam cups indicate that they break down much faster than a decade when in the sea under the full sun under the combined forces for the wind, the waves and the Sun.  Little bit of polystyrene foam are not found in the plastic sieved from the oceans surface.

Science vs. Advocacy

As readily admitted in the abstract of the latest study, the anti-plastics activists are pushing the false belief that “Plastics Are Forever” — that they will never naturally degrade or break down in the sea or in landfills.  Science, however, is finding that plastics are degraded, decomposed, eaten and photochemically oxidized back into their essential elements – carbon and hydrogen — or used as food by various microbes and fungi.  Most of the plastic waste that enters the oceans disappears altogether.

hdpeThere plastics that are intentionally engineered to withstand exposure to sunlight  and chemicals without  degrading.  Among them are various types of  HDPE (High-density polyethylene) , which is used in the manufacture of thousands of items, including potable water pipes, surgical implants,  landfill liners, pyrotechnic mortars and fuel cans.  Another personal note:  If you are buying jerry cans for marine use, or fuel cans for outboard motors, buy only those marked HDPE with the symbol shown here.  Many consumer gas cans are meant to be stored in garages and breakdown rapidly if left exposed to sunlight.  HDPE fuel cans are intended to be exposed and last a very long time.

Bottom Lines:

—   Plastics fall under Kindergarten Rules — Clean up your own messes — Pick up after yourself.  Put your trash in the proper trash bin – recyclables go  in the Recycle Bin.

—  Trash does not belong in the natural environment — regardless of what it is made of.  Nations, states, counties and cities should take great care to see that the waste and trash of human civilization is properly and sensibly collected and disposed of.

—  Plastics are hydrocarbons — like petroleum.  Thus should be recycled into useable building material, such as plastic boards for patios and decks or used as fuel to produce electrical power in modern clean-burn power plants.

—  Thin film plastic shopping bags, like those being banned all across the world, should be replaced with re-engineered materials to be more easily degradable and deployed in common useMany types are already commercially available, albeit at some added cost.

—  Most of the plastic that has been allowed to escape into the environment will be disposed of by natural processes in reasonable amounts of time.  This fact should not be used as an excuse to fail in our responsibility to take care of our own messes.

—  Landfilled plastics will take longer to degrade — but will do so under attack by microbes and fungi.  Some plastics will have a very long lifetime in landfills — this is what landfills are for.  Other human products, such as glass jars and ceramics, will be there for future interstellar archaeologists to find.

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 Author’s Comment:

Our societies are under constant attack by mis- and ill-informed activists fighting shadows and imagined boogeymen instead of trying to make the world a better place for those truly in need.  Those spending their time, money and effort in the battle to ban plastic straws, for instance,  appear ridiculous to those of us who have spent years helping some of the almost one billion people living in profound poverty, many lacking  simple necessities like  sources of clean drinking water, efficient safe cooking stoves  or access to minimal basic health care.

Plastics are miraculous modern materials which have made so many things possible in our modern societies.  You will not find many (maybe not even one) anti-plastic activists without a modern cell phone  or living in a plastic-free home — it is probably close to impossible today.

Unnecessary waste, particularly of excess packaging materials, is a problem, at least in the United States, where almost everything sold is wrapped in too many layers of packaging material which needs to be disposed of.  Yes, much of that waste is plastic which should be, but is not, recycled.

I’d love to hear how your town, city or state is succeeding with the proper handling of trash of all types.

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255 thoughts on “Plastics: Science is Winning

  1. Plastics are a derivative of oil and as such could be used for fuel. In fact, major urban incinerators are predicated upon burning plastics in the waste stream to generate electricity and, in a combined cycle system, steam. The idea is to address the waste of urban creation by burning garbage. Right now, plastics are sent to recycling which are being sent to landfills.

    With proper control of emissions, burning garbage with its high plastic content would be an appropriate response to urban garbage and the need for inexpensive electricity and steam.

    • RiHo08 ==> Yes, that’s what I suggest — recycle it into building materials or burn it for power.

      • You missed the target with this article.

        It’s not our fault in the USA that so many Asians throw plastics in their rivers, which end up in the ocean.

        And your answer to “Where do the plastics go?” does not provide the final destination.

        Science is not winning.

        Science is just discovering microplastics and where they are located.

        Plastics do have potential harmful effects on human health.

        Not the plastic bottles floating in the ocean, or the plastic bottles on the beach, but “microplastics”.

        Write an article on that subject.

        I’ve already posted three articles on the subject at my climate science blog — you’re falling behind the cutting edge of science !

        https://elonionbloggle.blogspot.com/2019/09/plastic-apocalypse-part-3.html

        I’ll wait here while you are writing.

        • Richard ==> Good to hear you’ll wait there…..you’ve missed the point of where the plastic goes.

          You are perfectly welcome to remain on the other side of the controversial issue — but MIT and Woods Hole, along with a whole lot of other good science groups are finding that the plastic in the ocean is consumed, entirely, either biologically or phtochchemically.

          • Hansen:
            That would make you, and the studies you quote, WRONG.

            From one of my articles:
            “The highest concentration of all, 154,000 particles per liter, (of microplastics) was found in new snow from the Bavarian Alps !

            Bergmann identified many different plastics in the samples:
            (1)
            Varnishes and paints used to coat structures, ships, automobiles, and oil rigs;

            (2)
            Rubber particles from car tires;

            (3)
            Ffibers from synthetic clothing,
            and

            (4)
            Mass-produced synthetics, such as polyethylene, PVC,
            polystyrene, and polycarbonate.”
            .
            .
            .
            From one of my other articles:
            “The study was conducted by the German Environment
            Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute.

            They found 97% of blood and urine samples from 2,500 children tested between 2014 and 2017 had traces
            of micro-plastics.”

          • Richard ==> Did they test for carbon particles? Sahara sand particles? All the other PM2.5 particles? Three of the four particles you mention are not plastics….the finding of small particles is no surprise.

            Most of the PM2.5 particles found are from smoke (forest fires), agricultural dust, etc.

            The small particles will be eaten up…..

    • As I have recently learned, that (incineration of waste) is exactly what the Japanese do with their urban waste. Massive incinerators are set up to burn this waste and convert it to electricity. A program I saw on YouTube (Trashopolis: Tokyo) does a good job of explaining the process. Obviously, the lack of developable land in Japan has led the Japanese to unique and ingenious solutions.

        • Kip,
          Fulcrum Bioenergy is building a Waste to Fuels plant in Nevada right now. They segregate MSW and gasify it to CO+H2. They combine these into hydrocarbons and water. The Fischer-Tropsch fuels are non-toxic and biodegradable and are drop-in replacement for conventional fuels meaning nothing has to change to use them either neat or blended. And they reduce emissions as well. Fulcrum is designing a second plant and can expand to any landfill that has sufficient capacity to support the process. The only bad issue is the EPA doesn’t allow use of Plastics in the process if it is to get RINs under the Energy Independence and Security Act provisions.

          • Kip,
            The environmentalists lobbied Congress to remove plastics from allowed feedstocks for producing renewable fuels as they felt that plastics are better recycled as plastic than as fuel. However, this isn’t the case as recycled plastics were sent to China and recycled. China will no longer take the plastics as there was always unrecyclable material in the mix so they had to further segregate the plastics before reprocessing them. And virgin plastic was always more cost competitive anyway. So now, like glass, recycled plastics just pile up or are put in landfills
            Such a waste. And it will literally take an act of Congress to change this situation as it is in the EISA 2007 act.
            Aren’t we all glad we have environmentalists out there protecting us from ourselves. They are doing such a fantastic job.

        • We have a waste to energy plant here in Portsmouth Virginia. The waste is burned and the energy is converted to steam and piped across the street to the Naval shipyard for their industrial use and also for the steam needs of ships in the shipyard.

          • Chris ==> Have sailed past that plant many times and didn’t realize it was waste-to-energy. Thanks for letting us know.

            Is the plant well-accepted by the public?

          • The plant has been in Portsmouth for over 10 years and has always had a good public image. I think it will remain in operation as long as the US Navy needs steam for its ships in the shipyard.

      • Maybe someone needs to tell the Chinese. As I hear it, they are the main source for plastic in the ocean. I wouldn’t think it would take much to mix a little trash in with their coal.

        Put me down as another yes for burning. Convert it to CO2, which then gets converted to biomass.

        • DR.
          I understand it is Asia, not just China and, in fact, China has recently refused to take anymore recyclables from the West, leaving Western recyclers in an even bigger bind than they were in before. Vietnam has taken it on and nations such as Indonesia. They recycle what is profitable and dump the rest into the ocean.
          The Philippines has also refused to take it anymore. Some of the Asian nations are feeling that they are the West’s dumping ground for their trash and are fed up with it. If only some PC Professor would find “racism” in recycling, he may be onto something, for a change.
          There are questions about where the stuff that is not recyclable for a profit is ending up but, apparently, ships loaded with it go off somewhere but don’t land anywhere with it still on their ships.
          I have never quite understood how it is that collecting all this stuff in trucks, taking it to recyclers in trucks at some distance, who then proceed to send the non-profitable stuff thousands of miles away on diesel ships is good for the environment instead of just burying it in landfills or, burning it and, as has been suggested, using it for fuel. Then again, long ago, I stopped expecting the “greens” to make any sense.

          • The raison d’être for greens is to make trouble, not sense. They are mostly simple people who have been told that pollution is still a serious problem (even after decades of addressing it) and have been weaponized to create dissent. The ultimate goal is to create a global superState that will make Nazi Germany look like Mayberry.

          • “There are questions about where the stuff that is not recyclable for a profit is ending up but, apparently, ships loaded with it go off somewhere but don’t land anywhere with it still on their ships.”

            Different countries have different rules when it comes to dumping trash. If I remember right from my time in the USN, past 25 miles off shore it was permissible to dump trash. As a USN practice we didn’t dump anything until >50 miles offshore. This was always a major evolution for us because we would start pumping out any contaminated water we had on board and tossing out trash as soon as we crossed the limit. Matter of fact, when it came to contaminated water it didn’t all belong to our ship, the shipyard would top up our tanks just before we pulled out to help empty their storage tanks. FYI, by contaminated I mean mostly oil/water mix that was pumped from the bilges.

          • Darrin ==> If you can find high-quality, contemporary evidence than ANY nation is intentionally dumping plastic trash (or municipal waste in general) into the ocean, please leave a link here. Or email it to me at my first name at i4 dot net.

            I have commented above that when I was in the Merchants, we pumped bilges overboard (oil and all), placed trash in weighted bags and tossed ’em off the stern, and dumped galley garbage overboard with no fuss at all (the birds and fish seemed quite pleased.

      • The worst thing you can do with garbage is bury it. We are going to pay a huge price for our land fills due to all the non-oxidized metals, plastics and oils(petroleum based and plant base) leaching into the ground water. Landfill another green failure.

    • There are many plastics that contain more than just hydrogen and carbon. Oxygen and nitrogen are common.

      With regard to combustion, one needs to sort out PVC to avoid formation of toxic species, such as polychlorinated dioxins.

      • Indeed. A local incineration plant had to be shut down after years of polluting local air with dioxins. Probably a good idea when done correctly but garbage triage is a very approximate process.

        It’s reassuring that breakdown is complete on centennial rather than millennial time-scales but that is still a long time with the amount crap we produce and just drop on the ground.

        • Decadal or less is more likely when it comes to how quickly most plastics break down when exposed to the sun.

        • Greg ==> Stuff “dropped on the ground” just needs to be picked up — your mother taught you that.

      • Some 40 years ago I was told that you could avoid dioxin by using a height enough combustion temperature. As I remember it, you would have to add a bit of some gas to achieve the high temperature. Haven’t found any source though, so may not be correct.

        • Carl F

          You are correct. The plastics are able to burn at very high temperature because they turn into gases as then thermally decompose. No need for additional fuel.

          Plastics have additives (fillers) like glass beads. Glass does not burn. So there is an ash component if one burns a pile of random plastic. Dyes are an obvious additive, and UV inhibiters. But for the most part, they are just hydrogen and carbon.

          • The problem is in the venting towers, if the exhaust is allowed to cool slowly, or run through heat exchange systems to generate electricity, the dioxins reform. If the exhaust is immediately quenched( using water) the the heat is lost but the air is clean ( relatively)

        • Yes that is correct. The main reason PVC is dangerous is chlorine used in its manufacture. When PVC is heated it breaks down the dioxins. Add more heat and oxygen and it breaks down the CO2 water and hydrochloric acid. If you pass this exhaust through a sodium hydroxide solution you get backing soda and sodium chloride (table salt).

      • “With regard to combustion, one needs to sort out PVC to avoid formation of toxic species, such as polychlorinated dioxins.”

        Not needed. This is not a problem with proper incinerators and treatment of flue gases. The Gärstad plant in Linköping, Sweden burns 88 tons of waste per hour producing 1380 GWh of hot water and 293 GWh of electricity per year:

        https://www.tekniskaverken.se/om-oss/anlaggningar/kraftvarmeverk/garstadverket/

        The annual dioxin emissions is 0.000021 kg:

        http://utslappisiffror.naturvardsverket.se/Sok/Anlaggningssida/?pid=1279

        Note that the emission data is from Naturvårdsverket, the Swedish equivalent of EPA.

        • tty ==> Thanks for the data on waste-to-energy in Sweden. Other countries ought to follow suit. Places like NY City, especially, with concentrated populations and municipal steam heat.

      • PVC can be incinerated with properly designed off gas treatment. Did it w/ simulated transuranic waste containing PVC using three different incineration technologies when I worked for Battelle.

        Regarding plastics degrading naturally in the environment, we found that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) disappeared with time. PCBs are very stable in the environment and that property plus fire resistance made them popular as dialectic fluids in electrical equipment. Having performed dozens of PCB investigations and remediation designs, we commonly found PCBs on concrete transformer pads inside industrial facilities and could not find them on outdoor transformer pads exposed to weather/sunlight. PCBs are not “forever” despite being recalcitrant.

    • Our atmosphere started with 96% CO2. Just like Mars and Venus.

      High energy protons from our Sun converted this atmosphere into hydrocarbons, free oxygen and water. Water was ionized to hydronium and hydroxide ions in a CO2 soup creating more complexity with CO2, starting life itself.

      CO2 is the stuff of life. Reducing it below 180 ppm will end life on our planet.

        • Exactly, I knew it was bacteria, I did not know it name said bacteria. Geoff if look in the right places you can see the results of the cyanobacteria work, all the red rock formation are from the oxygen that the bacteria released allowing iron that was dissolved in the oceans precipitate out and to collect on the ocean floor as iron oxide.

      • “Our atmosphere started with 96% CO2. Just like Mars and Venus.”

        Geoff, that’s interesting. And where did that CO2 come from? I’ve often thought about that question. Maybe you know?

        Thanks!

        • Putting the CO2 that is now bound in limestones will add ~20 atm. to the atmosphere. With 0.8 atm. N2 and no O2 that results indeed in 96% CO2.

      • There is a lot of oxygen, which is a strong oxidant,everywhere in the universe. Most elements therefore usually occur to a large extent as oxides everywhere where the temperature is not high enough to ionize matter. Carbon is no exception, it usually occurs as CO/CO2 (and sometimes also CH4).

        It is the large amounts of O2 and elemental carbon on Earth that is unusual and due to the presence of photosynthesizing organisms. If we ever find another planet with large amounts of free oxygen in the atmosphere it is very nearly certain to have life on a large scale.

    • in Victoria Aus we had a huge issue with stockpiled waste going up in huge fires in warehouses it is stored at
      the company went broke its a follow on from China refusing to take it.
      so it was suggested we burn it for energy
      did the greens scream
      so a few hundred thousand tonnes of pet n other crap got sent to Landfill instead and not one squeak from the greentards
      and the cost and space used was huge.
      meanwhile the takeover company will now be in the poop as well as another fire was burning merrily at another depot the last couple of days
      also amusing is the ones yelling still buy and drink fizzy crap in pet as well as their juices etc
      so the answer is to stop buying the fizz and make your own juices at home
      but they dont appear to be that serious methinks

      as for me styrofoam makes a brilliant firelighter;-)

    • The proper post-consumer waste system would divide waste into three streams: the truly recyclable (metal and glass), the decomposables (most household waste, kitchen waste, yard waste…), and the combustibles (plastic, paper..). While more pre-consumer wastes can be recyclable, the problem of soil and contamination renders most post consumer waste unrecyclable.

      Unfortunately this sustainable approach will not be put into place because politicians do not have the spine to stand up against the opposition to landfills (where the methane can be used to fire electric generation) and waste-to-energy incinerators. So we end up with cost ineffective “recycling” that send the bulk of the material collected to landfills.

  2. Kip, not sure this article that recently appeared in The Seattle Times qualifies as a complete success. The various levels (cities, county) of government that negotiate contracts with waste haulers have up to now published different rules for plastic bags and film. Confusing for someone who moves around. My garbage hauler never accepted it, and now the others appear to be throwing in the towel. A neighbor who worked for a large waste hauler previously told me that glass is a huge problem in the combined recycling stream (everything into one bin) and the company will try very hard to get out of that requirement in future contracts.
    https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattle-king-county-to-stop-taking-plastic-bags-in-recycling/

    • Windsong ==> Thanks for the link — a lot of localities are having problems with recycling — what to put in with what — what the Chinese and other Asian countries will accept.

    • THE Twisted Irony of Deep-Green Energy Policy (RET)
      Jamie Spry
      http://bit.ly/2KEKzf6
      THE FALLOUT
      NO BUSINESS, big or small, has been spared SA’s skyrocketing power prices.
      But, perhaps the most symbolic case of a South Australian business shutting its doors due to soaring electricity costs is that of the very green, ethical, eco-friendly, planet saving recycling business “Plastics Granulating Services (PGS)”, based in Kilburn in Adelaide’s inner-north.

      Plastics Granulating Services (PGS), based in Kilburn in Adelaide’s inner-north, said it had seen its monthly power bills increase from $80,000 to $180,000 over the past 18 months.
      Managing director Stephen Scherer said the high cost of power had crippled his business of 38 years and plans for expansion, and had led to his company being placed in liquidation.
      “It’s where the cash went out of the business, and without the cash, we couldn’t service what we needed to service,” he said.
      “We process about 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste [and] that’s now currently turned off, so South Australia won’t be recycling 10,000 tonnes [of plastic],” he said.
      38 YEARS of hard work over. 35 workers out of a job and 10,000 tonnes of plastic that will now not be recycled, thanks to SA’s mad obsession with windmills, solar panels and their associated economy-wrecking policies.
      It is astonishing that a Government should deliberately create such an expensive and unreliable power supply – destroying the cheap and reliable one it had – without even being able to explain just how much difference any of this would make to the world’s temperatures.
      This is ideology gone mad. How often must it be said that what South Australian Governments have done to their power system at such vast expense MAKES NO DIFFERENCE TO GLOBAL WARMING ANYWAY.
      The brutal closure of PGS – yet more evidence of virtue-signalling global warming climate change policies causing far more damage, right now, than any slight warming could ever do by 2100. …thanks to SA’s mad obsession with windmills, solar panels and their associated economy-wrecking policies…
      ___

      This is the real world of green politics and policies gone mad.

      • “This is ideology gone mad.”

        What a sad story! This is the real “climate change” crisis. Foolish politicians making foolish decisions trying to control the Earth’s weather that take away jobs and essential services from the public.

        Somebody ought to hold the politicians accountable. The company owner ought to take that 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste and dump it in Parliament’s frontyard and tell them it’s now their responsiblity to get rid of the waste.

      • SA is our version of california;-( pity I grew up there and it was once a decent place
        I was told theyre now talking up growing cotton!!! at Virginia Im suspecting the old salt flats theyve now shut dow, and using the recycled effluent
        another utterly stipud idea to spin in a state with high unemployment and bugger all future unless they get the greens n labor OUT fast

    • “A neighbor who worked for a large waste hauler previously told me that glass is a huge problem in the combined recycling stream”

      It is. Glass is a big problem for incineration plants since it melts and pools at the bottom of the incinerator. It is also very difficult to separate before burning. Almost anything else that nasty and/or recyclable can either be separated before burning, from the ashes afterwards or be scrubbed from the flue gas.

      This is about the only reason to “recycle” glass (it’s not economically viable, most “recycled” glass actually goes to landfill, where it is stable and harmless)

      • Perhaps the best way to handle mixed wast is to grind it up and then use compressed air to separate the light particles (plastic food and wood) from the heavy material (metal, glass, rock dirt). Burn the light stuff and then and then melt the rest and turn it into glass pellets. One popular product is Black diamond blasting sand . it is basically coal slag, Glass containing minerals the comes out of coal fueled boilers. It is a great abrasive for sandblasting and some people use is a a substrate in aquarium because it is a cheap black sand.

      • not so my good friend.
        Just used 2 m cubed of 100% recycled glass (foamed and broken into 30 or 60mm sieve sizes) under a lawn in the uk to act as a drainage layer, readily available, easy to use, available from the German manufacturer as and when required, used in enormous bulk for massive Geo projects,
        and it makes them a profit.

        • jono ==> Foamed? So kind of like really crisp Styrofoam, but made of glass? No sharp edges, etc?

          In the US Northeast, we have a plant that “puffs” slate into a lightweight aggregate used in concrete structures and as a soil conditioner, among many other uses.

  3. “… mealworms possess gut microbes that eat through polystyrene”

    I threw a bunch of packing styrofoam into my mealworm farm and they completely devoured it.

      • My father used to toss ground-up styrofoam into his worm farm (an old metal box with dirt and worms), and it always disappeared after a couple of years. He did it to help keep the dirt loose.

        This was back in the 60s – nothing plant-based in that foam.

      • They liked the cellulose packing peanuts the best (the kind that dissolves in water), but I am certain the vast majority of it was chemical-based.

  4. ”Many of the building blocks of plants are hydrocarbons — like cellulose. ”

    Actually cellulose is a carbohydrate. It contains lots of Oxygen atoms bonded to carbon. Think sugars chained together.

      • Kip and Joel,

        I have been trying to argue for some time now that Carbohydrate is a misnomer. The name implies hydrated carbon, that is water molecules bound to chains of carbon atoms i.e. CH20. Sugar molecules for example are not structured in this way, a sugar’s basic structural unit is in fact HCOH. Sugars therefore are structurally composed of long chain polymers of Methanol, the simplest possible alcohol.

        • Phillip ==> I think that there are two different naming standards in use — one in human nutrition and one in organic chemistry.

          The FDA says:

          “Carbohydrate is found primarily in plant foods; the exception is dairy products,
          which contain milk sugar (lactose). There are several types of carbohydrate:
          • Sugars are the smallest type of carbohydrate and include single sugars
          and those with two sugar molecules joined together.
          • Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that chemically have characteristics of
          both sugars and alcohols.
          • Starches are made up of many of glucose molecules linked together into
          long chains.
          • Dietary fiber is made up of many sugar molecules linked together. But
          unlike starches, fiber is bound together in such a way that it cannot be
          readily digested. There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble.”

          Organic chemistry separates these into Monosaccharides, Disaccharides, and Polysaccharides (which includes starche and cellulose).

        • The hydrate refers to the fact that the oxygen attached to the carbon is a hydroxyl group (an alcohol as you point out) rather than as an ether, ketone, or aldehyde. In chemistry, we often make these molecules by creating the ketone or aldehyde, and then hydrating it.

    • Both starch and cellulose are polyglucoses. In starch the α-glycosidic bond is applied, in cellulose the β-glycosidic bond.

  5. Bravo. Unfortunately this will not be widely read or reported on because it doesn’t have any villains, other than the same sensationalizing outlets that will ignore it.
    I live in rural Vietnam where plastic is essential for food hygiene and anything that can be reused is, by women. My sister in law was using a small, thick plastic bag in lieu of a purse for more than a year. Young men and children don’t get it and throw things in the rivers, just like all over the world.

  6. Kip Hansen

    “There are plastics that are intentionally engineered to withstand exposure to sunlight and chemicals without degrading. ” ?

    Great post….

  7. Plausible and clear explanation.
    Ruins my story that all of them evil hydrocarbons were magically transported to the ‘Bermuda Triangle.
    Never to be seen again.

  8. Activism is based in and feeds on agendas. NOT science. And then there is the “lazy simpleton” group that no nothing of science and rather then learn something of it prefer to be lead around by the nose by the activists. Or worse, politicians or late night clowns.

  9. “It is about time that someone scientifically challenged the activist position held and promulgated by many environmental, anti-plastics and anti-corporate groups that “Plastic is Forever”.”

    That is your political opinion. Anti-corporate? You mean commies don’t you?
    Its a strawman, no one thinks anything lasts forever, to say they ‘literally’ do is just silly.
    Your science “winning” boils down to this devastating knock-out blow “in reasonable amounts of time” as opposed to forever. You seem to be mistaking your political opinion for science.

    Subtances like polyethylene (most shopping bags) doesn’t bio-degrade. It does photo-degrade into smaller and smaller particles, but those particles are still not bio-degradeable. In dark places it will persist for a very, very long time.
    https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es104042f

    “most conventional plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, poly(vinyl chloride) and poly(ethylene terephthalate), are non biodegradable”
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769161/

    “Microbes eat them up entirely.” That is not what the link says: :Scanning electron microscopy revealed bacteria-like cells living in pits in the plastic, as if they were eating the surface away.” Thats about as close to “eat them up entirely” as it got.

    So why don’t you spell it out for us: how long is “reasonable”? 100 years? 1000 years?

    This article is inaccurate, misguided and anti-science.

      • I read them and stand by my comments. Far from somehow being on science’s “winning” side your essay is a nothing but a biased opinion piece that makes zero contribution to science – in fact sets out to muddy the water – presumable for political ends since you think its somehow anti-corporate.

        Btw, I’m still keen to find out what you exactly mean by “a reasonable time”?

        • You might do something difficult, like look up the phrase “Plastic Is Forever” on your favorite search engine.

          Not only is it a common meme among the left-enviros, it’s even a movie title.

          • You seem to be making the same willing mistake as KH: that plastic is “forever” is some kind of scientific term. “Reasonable” is much more sciencey.

      • All in the Loydo Thread ==> Plastics and the anti-Plastics Movement are part of a modern controversy that has very strong tribal forces, especially on the anti-plastic side of the issue. Why anyone would be upset by the news that natural process — living things — can and do break down plastics into their chemical components and use plastics as food is a mystery to me. Not sure how that can be threatening, even to strong anti-plastics advocates.

        Exactly why aren’t the anti-plastics people fighting GLASS — glass jars, glass bottles, window glass, auto glass, etc — which is almost literally “Forever” — it will never be broken down in the sense used in the plastics issue. Or high grade stainless steel — which has a very long lifetime in landfills.

        Maybe Loydo will explain it to us.

        On the issue of “reasonable time”: Landfills are modern “middens“. They are where we put the trash — all in one place rather than just strewn around everywhere. Some of the things in middens degrade and are not found centuries later (dung, food scraps, rags) and others are still there when archaeologists dig into them after a millennium or so. There is no particular expectation that landfilled items will break down or disappear over any temporal period– that’s why we put them in landfills.

        Trash — of all types — that is not properly collected and secured in landfills needs to be cleaned up and dealt with. This is litter — and there are anti-litter programs to deal with it. Individuals can deal with it as my wife and I do — we tuck a few of those hated plastic shopping bags in our backpacks when hiking or visiting the beaches, and fill them with any litter we encounter — placing them either in the provided trash bins or taking them home to our trash bins.

        The Bottom Lines of the essay do contain some opinions — good ones at that.

        • The main argument you are trying to make in this post is that: “Science is beginning to win in the long battle over misinformed anti-plastic advocacy.” You say this because you claim someone said plastic lasts “forever”.

          Undoubtedly nothing lasts for ever, so lets dismiss that strawman right off the bat. Also there is no doubt that some types of plastic are less resiliant from attack from microbes, UV, oxygen, mechanical fragmentataion etc. If you have any evidence that anyone disputes that then post it.

          Some materials it seems are not bio-degradable, including some plastics and they will take decades or even centuries disappear. In the meantime (your “reasonable” time) they become nano-particles before that and will probably have infiltrated every living cell on the planet – and will for centuries to come. Who know to what affect.

          You’re left with: no they do not last forever, in fact they only last a “reasonable” time. But even when pushed you fail to define what your reasonable time might be. Where I come from that is at best a piss weak argument. At best.

          But that is not where you stop. In your blinkered misapprehension you actually attribute this justifiable opposition to unfetterd plastic production to poltical motives; to “misinformed enviromentalists”, whom you believe are anti-science and “anti-corporate”.

          And there is the rub. Despite plastic contamination being ubiquitous and extremely long-lasting, your political ideology is more important than the truth.

          You could have written a balanced, non-idealogical post about new evidence some plastic is not forever but that some types of plastic could potentially still be a long-term problem which many well-informed people have a concerns about… But no, you chose to mock and play politics instead and in the process have diminished science in the process.

          Disinformer.

          • Loydo ==> If you live in America or Europe, and are not aware of the “Plastic is Forever” movement, which is responsible for the banning of plastic bags, plastic straws, foam take out containers, etc then you have been intellectually living under a rock.

            It is Woods Hole and MIT that bring up the advocacy issue in their “ABSTRACT: Numerous international governmental agencies that steer policy assume that polystyrene persists in the environment for millennia. ” The Plastic if Forever movement is the public mirror of the governmental agency position.

          • “Child bites dog”

            A statement that represents the near impossible happening.

            Only, it just happened.
            Lolly accuses Kip Hansen of being a “disinformer”.

            Over hundreds of thread bomb comments, lolly fails to present “real information”; yet he feels he can accuse one of the best science authors.
            All because lolly is involved in the anti-information and anti-science discussions campaign..
            Typically, of so typically pathetic, lolly.

            Great article, Kip!
            Ignore the Spanish peanut gallery.

    • My experience of shopping bags is that if stored for later use they degrade to uselessness in a couple of years even when stored in the dark. They become so fragile that they can be rubbed into a very fine powder between the hands. Making things very small to increase rates of chemical and or physical reactions is done in every chemical laboratory every day, that’s what a mortar and pestle is for.

        • “Breaking up is not the same as breaking down.”

          In this case, it is. The super-thin plastic bags you get from supermarkets are fairly unstable, chemically. Things like UV and ozone eat them are a pretty good clip.

          Some environmentalists pretend they’re some sort of super-material, but they’re just a fraction of a mil of very cheap, flexible plastic sheet that comes apart fairly quickly unless protected from the environment.

        • Breaking up is not the same as breaking down.

          Of course it isn’t. Breaking up is much harder to do.

        • Breaking up is the first step in breaking down.

          Looks like Loydo is trying to say Plastic is forever, without having to actually say it.

      • Mechanical breakdown facilitates biodegradation, or simply integrates with the surrounding mineral composition, perhaps part of a more complex, anthropogenic structure as described in this post.

    • To bad actual scientists out in the actual world, found that all of those things do bio-degrade, despite what the activists claim.

      Yes, anti-corporate, and many of them are left of socialist.

    • Loydo –

      Your first link states: “This article also outlines important questions, particularly in terms of time scale of complete degradation, environmental fate of the polymer residues, and possible accumulation of toxins, the answers to which need to be established prior to accepting these polymers as environmentally benign alternatives to their nondegradable equivalents. It appears from the existing literature that our search for biodegradable polyethylene has not yet been realized.”

      It is from 2011. Maybe they should do the “existing literature” search again using more current info?

      The second link is from 2009. I should point out that most “sciency articles” don’t last forever.

      Kip starts out with “Science is beginning to win in the long battle over misinformed anti-plastic advocacy. It has been a long time coming. The most recent paper on the subject of pelagic plastic …”.

      I, for one, am glad real science moves on.

    • Thanks for standing up for what’s right and factual.

      The article also fails to mention that while that “reasonable” time is passing and plastic is degrading, it would produce massive amounts of CO2, and other pollutants.

      This article looks like typical corporate propaganda, with little science behind it, and an army of trolls defending it.

      • Amin ==> I’m afraid the science in the essay — which is not mine,by the way — is sound and getting sounder every day. This is a huge area of ongoing research.

        woods Hole and MIT are not influenced by corporate pressures — in fact, Woods Hole is a rabid environmental activist organization and their natural inclination would be the opposite of their current finding.

        CO2 is not a pollutant — it is what happens when animals burn (oxidize) their food for energy — the breakdown of hydrocarbons results in CO2 and H2O.

        You should actually read the science (every point is linked to the original science) and see what good science, well done, is finding on the issue.

      • Any science that a leftist doesn’t like is just dismissed as corporate propaganda.
        Don’t even attempt to challenged the science and the conclusions, just invent a reason to ignore it.

        While reasonable is in the eye of the beholder, the paper does list how quickly plastics break down when exposed to the real world.

    • I left a plastic bag folded up in a tray under the front seat of my car (dark space in a hot environment) three or four months later on attempted retrieval it had become a mass of powdery small flakes.

      • Dorothy ==> Thanks for the personal experience — heating plastic bags (if you are in Florida it could reach above 100 degrees in your car) definitely causes some cheap plastic bags to fall apart.

  10. OMG-it’s worse than we thought, pelagic plastic naturally degrades to CO2! Who is throwing all of this plastic into the ocean (or along highways, or on the sidewalk, or blowing in the wind)? I think advanced cultures don’t do this, litter that is, so who is the culprit here?

    • “I think advanced cultures don’t do this, litter that is, so who is the culprit here?”

      Ron, reports are that 90% of plastic in the oceans come from Asia. Of course, this could be, in part, because we send our “recylables” there which our recyclers can’t profit from and theirs can’t either so, those that have no value end up in the oceans. In that sense, maybe it is the advanced cultures fault, as well.
      However, if you look at LA, San Francisco, Seattle et al with large homeless populations and enormous amounts of plastic trash and human waste, as well, the US doesn’t seem very advanced, does it? I don’t know if it’s true or not but some have said LA is worse than Calcutta.

      • Ron and KcTaz ==> The vast majority of plastics in the oceans come from the Third World — those countries without the resources or the inclination or political will to have effective trash collection and landfilling programs. Poor countries — that is.

        There is no evidence that any country is intentionally dumping plastics into the oceans. (There may or may not have been criminal activity — but no evidence has ever surfaced — anywhere).

        Poor countries allow plastic and other trash, refuse, and raw sewage to enter rivers and oceans because they haven’t the money to prevent it.

  11. “Activists” are not ill-informed. They are deliberately misleading the public to advance their agenda and, above all, generate funds for their organizations.

    Eco organizations will deliberately undermine efforts of others to solve the problems they are campaigning against to recover (and make more) money they spent on campaigns.

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329680852_Analysis_of_Greenpeace's_business_model_philosophy_Greenpeace_wants_a_piece_of_your_green

    Most of the plastics (90%+) in the oceans originates from developed western countries with good recycling track record. https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2018/06/Save-the-oceans.pdf

    These countries export their recycled plastics to Asia and Africa for “processing” and somehow the plastics “find their way” into about 5 major rivers which bring the plastics into the oceans. Then, the western countries can financially subsidize the “ocean cleanup” type eco organizations to try and collect the plastics from the oceans. Genius cyclical business model…

    • maarten ==> The GWPF report is vague and unscientific — a lot of “may”s and “might be”s. Much of the plastic is manufactured in the West and in Asia. There is no evidence that any nation is actually intentionally dumping plastic in the sea.

      More reliable information shows that the Third Worlds is responsible for most of the plastic that enters the ocean — but it is accidental — street waste being washed into the sea. I have seen this for myself in the Caribbean.

      • I( should say “that that portion of the GWPF is vague and unscientific” — the rest of the report correctly states where the oceanic plastic comes from.

      • Really Kip, this is over the top.
        The story made all the news recently that 90% of all plastic in the oceans trace back to just 10 rivers in Asia and Africa. I am sure you saw it. And as you have seen, it is rivers large and small, all over the globe.
        Kip wrote:
        “There is no evidence that any nation is actually intentionally dumping plastic in the sea.”
        We dumped all out trash into the river.
        *Shrug*
        The river carried our trash off.
        *Shrug*
        The river empties into the sea, with all our trash.
        *Shrug*
        There is trash in the sea.
        *Shrug*
        Toss-up between “Did we do that?” and “We did not mean it!”
        It “Just Happened.”
        *Shrug*
        Not Intentional!

        • TonyL ==> Where are you from? I suspect some nice modern country where the trash is picked up at the curb from your rolly-bin — two or more bins, as there must be recycling bins as well. You probably have hospitals and emergency rooms and government agencies that care if your kids get sick and die.

          I have been to some of these countries that are responsible for the plastic in the ocean — they do not dump trash in the river — trash gets washed from the streets into the rivers — sometimes along with whole villages. When there is no trash collection, the trash accumulates all over — then the storms come and wash it into the rivers, thus to the sea.

          They shouldn’t allow it to happen. But they have other priorities — politicians have to steal every penny they can before they are chucked out of office — the people are busy trying to get enough to eat and get some education for their kids — they’d like some electricity a few hours a day and it would be nice to have a refrigerator to keep the little food they can gather from rotting….

          Litter patrol is not on the priority list.

          Why don’t they just get rolly-bins like we have? And quit being poor and sick too, while they’re at it.

          • I knew it. Doubling down.
            Trash in the streets and litter is bad, and as you observe, from some of the poorest countries on Earth.
            But what is going into the oceans? 10 Million Tons per year! This is not trash on the streets, this is Industrial Scale plastic pollution. As you already know, the poor countries simply do not have the resources to generate this kind of consumer waste on their own. This stuff in this quantity is *not* just street litter from careless consumers. But as you say, these countries have other priorities, fine. But still, at 10 megatons per year, it is not all street litter. There is a *lot* of dumping going on.
            And yes, it is standard procedure.
            “It is all accidental” just does not cut it. Not at 10 megatons per year.

            And just so you know:
            I have been to a few islands in the Carib myself. I have seen a few cases where the city provides dumpsters to poor neighborhoods, and the residents *do*not*bother*to*use*them. And I had to wonder how prevalent that mindset and attitude is in the third world.

            We have an attitude of “do not litter”, dispose of properly. In many regions, dumping in a river or the ocean is proper disposal.

          • TonyL ==> The Jambeck figures do not represent the amount of plastic going into the oceans. It is a figure of “unaccounted for” manufactured plastic that they can’t definitely say where it has gone — “their “mismanaged plastic waste available to enter the ocean” – Jambeck and team simply guess that 15% of that plastic potentially ends up in the oceans.” I wrote about Jambeck here.

            Getting excited about “10 Million Tons per year!” is equivalent to “We have only 12 years to save the planet”. It just ain’t so.

            That said, anything you can do to help raise the standards of living in the world’s poorest nations will helk with the plastics problem.

      • Just curious … is there a Caribbean swirling plastic patch? Or does all the Caribbean plastic make its way through the Panama Canal, before joining up with its giant molecular genetic brethren ?

        • Kenji ==> There is no swirling Garbage Patch — not in the Caribbean nor in the Pacific. The NOAA page on the issue was updated earlier this year to be less true.

          The earlier version stated:

          ” “The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Carey Morishige takes down two myths floating around with the rest of the debris about the garbage patches in a recent post on the Marine Debris Blog:

          1. There is no “garbage patch,” a name which conjures images of a floating landfill in the middle of the ocean, with miles of bobbing plastic bottles and rogue yogurt cups. Morishige explains this misnomer:
          “While it’s true that these areas have a higher concentration of plastic than other parts of the ocean, much of the debris found in these areas are small bits of plastic (microplastics) that are suspended throughout the water column. A comparison I like to use is that the debris is more like flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup, rather than a skim of fat that accumulates (or sits) on the surface.”
          …..
          2. There are many “garbage patches,” and by that, we mean that trash congregates to various degrees in numerous parts of the Pacific and the rest of the ocean. These natural gathering points appear where rotating currents, winds, and other ocean features converge to accumulate marine debris, as well as plankton, seaweed, and other sea life.””

          Anyone who has sailed the ocean or even been on a cruise liner knows that there is nothing to see.

      • jtom ==> Charles Moore vastly exaggerated his experience in the Garbage Patch (I am being kind here) — and has admitted it publicly.

        The National Geographic is an activist organization and often overstates environmental problems.

        The article you link supports my view and the science presented in the essay. The NG article states clearly that the vast majority of plastic found in the ocean — by weight — is lost fishing gear combined with all the plant and animal growth attached to it after floating for years).

        Note that the image of the bottle of water with plastic bits is faked — sieved particles have had water added to them (sieved from miles and miles of ocean) and shaken not stirred) for photographic effect.

        Read the studies about what actually happens to plastic in the ocean.

  12. The sieving statistics have another explanation. That at sizes below 5mm they are increasingly eaten by fish and possibly mammals at greater rates than microbes. It might be microbes, it might not. That hypothesis needs addressing.

    • Then the fish and possible mammals “poop them out” to be microbial food again.

      Ain’t nature great!?

    • Stephen ==> There have been some studies on that — and, of course, some little bits are accidentally or mistakenly consumed by fish and other sea animals….and excreted out again. Some of that sinks to the bottom of the sea — where the microbes continue to actually consume the plastic.

      The inescapable fact is that the itty-bitty bits disappear and are found no more … and that they are being continually eaten by microbes. when the bits get small enough, the surface consumption by microbes eats them all up.

  13. This story describes research on how bacteria and enzymes break down oil spills.

    In this case, the hydroxilases simply proved more efficient than other enzymes at breaking down crude oil components, and not just from the water, but from the soil as well. In fact they were so good, they broke down 80 percent of various crude oil compounds.

    We already have naturally occurring bacteria that consume oil and plastic. It seems feasible that we can also introduce different strains of bacteria that are even more efficient than the naturally occurring ones.

    Can we transform an oil spill from an ongoing disaster to a temporary nuisance? It sounds like it.

  14. In my community, a recyclable plastic item is only an item with number 1 or 2 added on the icon of plastic items readable somewhere on the item . Usually available on polyethylene items….if you can find the number 1 or 2 on an item! Glass items are no longer recyclable, do not place them in your recyclable disposable container. Paper is still recyclable. Look at drinking straws. Can you find the icon with number 1 or 2 on them? The answer is NO. They are not recyclable! Have fun with what is recyclable in your community.

    • rd50 ==> Recycling rules are often a standing joke, as the rules change and people are left confused. Thanks for the story in your area.

  15. Kip, you say,

    Thin film plastic shopping bags, like those being banned all across the world, should be replaced with re-engineered materials to be more easily degradable and deployed in common use.

    The vast majority of ‘singlet bags’, as they’re known in the trade, are made of low-density polyethylene that when burned breaks down into harmless water and carbon dioxide. In many countries they overwhelm the recycling sector and would be better burned in efficient, high-temperature incinerators.

    • Richard ==> Agree — plastics that can not be recycled and turned into useful items should be used as fuel for power or heating plants.

  16. “Plastic is not forever. Glass … is forever, but not plastic.”

    Neither.

    Is 51:6
    Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    And look upon the earth beneath:
    For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke,
    And the earth shall wear out like a cloak,
    And its inhabitants shall die with them: but
    My salvation shall be for ever, and
    My righteousness will never fail.

    • What? Are you referring to that long-haired guy with the beard? Did he really say that? Do yourself a favour and think long and hard about the fact that believing in quite possibly the most outrageous story ever told might very well be a case of indoctrination, no different than the new religion of today which is climate change.

    • “Plastic is not forever. Glass … is forever, but not plastic.”

      Diamonds, as we’re told, are forever. Plastic is for one-night stands.

  17. Since you ask… 50% of the recyclables generated by this household are now going straight to the landfill. Since the city decided they only need to pick up the bins on alternate weeks.

    • Writing Observer ==> “50% of the recyclables” is the rub — “recyclables” implies that the items or material COULD BE recycled, if we had a recycling plant, something to do with the stuff, etc etc.

      Very little of the potentially recyclable materials ANYWHERE is actually recycled in anything useful.

  18. Sailed Atlantic ocean 18 months almost diagonally end to end only a few years ago. If there is a place where masses of plastic is floating in ocean I didn’t found it. In fact, amount of trash I saw during the whole long voyage would fit in to one wheelbarrow, which is one wheelbarrow too many, but fact is that vast majority of Atlantic ocean is very clean.
    Maybe it is like climate change, it is always happening somewhere else.

    • XYZ ==> Your experience mirrors mine. In half a lifetime spent on the sea, I’ve found precious little floating out there — most often debris from the fishing industry — net floats, deck gear, etc. When sailing, we often changed course to investigate any floating object — because they were so rare.

      When I was in the merchants (ages ago), ship trash was stuffed in burlap bags, weighted and dump from the stern. Food garbage was just dumped — to the joy of the sea birds.

  19. But, but, but … what about all the MICRO PLASTICS settled into the livers and flesh of every pelagic fish in the ocean … which then ends up in the livers of the small children of poor third world fishermen forced off their boats onto higher ground by sea level rise?

    Those plastics are soooooo small, they’re … they’re … they’re … invisible to the human eye. So small, they can ONLY be seen in the laboratories of scientists hired by The Tides Foundation.

    • If the micro plastics are able to get into the bloodstream then they must be the size of protein, fat or carbohydrate molecules to pass through the gut wall, otherwise they would be egested in faeces rather than found in the liver.

    • Kenji ==> There is concern about “little things” (think PM2.5) — why they are particularly concerned about plastic little things is not clear. If they are biologically inert, so what? Little bits of inert carbon? Don’t know.

      There are a lot of little things in the air and food — tiny specks of silicon dust, sand from Africa, etc.

      Not sure where the science is going on the topic — it may just be a research fad.

  20. My biggest concern is the vast amounts of money used to indoctrinate and at the same time scare our children into believing that because of man’s negligence, we only have about 12 years left on this planet unless we revert to the lifestyle of our ancestors. Not only has the brainwashing been successful but now we must listen to 15 year old “experts” tell us how we should live our lives.
    Although I hate to side with the same people who are successfully pushing this leftwing socialist agenda re climate change, apparently most tap waters now have traces of plastic. As a sceptic, I do my own research and come to my own conclusions based on what I find but in this case I pretty much have to rely on the currrent research which is in its infancy. Somehow traces of plastic in my drinking water and not knowing how this will affect me long-term is not encouraging. Personally, the jogger with a plastic water bottle is just as much a hypocrite as an Al Gore flying to the Paris Climate Accord on a private jet with only him and his wife on board the aircraft.

    • “My biggest concern is the vast amounts of money used to indoctrinate and at the same time scare our children into believing that because of man’s negligence, we only have about 12 years left on this planet unless we revert to the lifestyle of our ancestors.”
      Be keen to know a reputable source that says we have 12 years left on the planet?

      • AOC. (Not that she’s “reputable”) but it was a year ago when she said that so now we have only 11 years left.

      • ‘Be keen to know a reputable source that says we have 12 years left on the planet?”

        Is that a trick question, Simon? The answer is nobody who claims we only have 12 years left to fix the Earth’s climate is a reputable source. There are no reputable sources for this claim. There are a lot of people making this claim but none of them are credible.

        I hope that helps.

        • Tom Abbott
          It’s just a dumb thing to say and repeat. No credible scientist in the field has ever said the world ends in 12 years. There are stupid people on both sides of this debate. Why quote them? It just muddies the water. I mean some of the fringe people at WUWT say we are heading in to an ice age. You wont find an honest scientist on the skeptic side who agrees with that so how does it help quoting stupid people?

          • Simon ==> Well, quoting stupid things — the people are not necessarily stupid — they can just be massively biased into believing nonsense…..

          • You should do a search on “climate AND 12 years left”, Simon. Lots of hits in there. Here’s one that popped out at me when I did that search:

            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

            Mon 8 Oct 2018

            “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”

            end excerpt

            You’re not calling those IPCC climate experts stupid are you? The people from the IPCC are the ones putting out this 12-year scaremongering propaganda. All the other stupid people who say it, are just following the IPCC example.

          • Tom

            I don’t mean to be rude, but you can did read what I wrote didn’t you? I was commenting on Art saying “12 years left on this planet…”
            You have quoted scientists saying we have 12 years to make changes. Very different thing.
            and no I am not commenting on the IPCC experts. They are not perfect, but they get most things right.

    • Art ==> What they aren’t telling you is that there are a lot of tiny bits of stuff in your water — not just plastic little bits. Sand, dust, carbon, silicon, etc etc. If it worries you — get an RO water purifier system for your drinking water. we use them on boats to make fresh water from salt water.

    • With modern analytical methods we can find traces of absolutely everything absolutely everywhere.

      Remember that with some analysis methods it is actually possible to detect single atoms. I remember that even more than 40 years ago when I learned to use Neutron Activation Analysis, we for a joke left a piece of ordinary mild steel in a neutron source over a weekend and then analyzed it. We found nearly 40 different elements in it, several of them of course highly toxic, like arsenic, but of course in completely negligible quantities.

      With modern methods you could probably find all elements including several transuranics.

  21. My HDPA water tanks in tropical Queensland are starting to degrade. They have UV protection etc. So I’ve started painting them to extend life. One neighbour has built a roof over his tanks.
    All plastic biodegrades. Some people live in the city, and don’t see it.

    • Peter ==> Yes, even the best of the plastics get damaged by the tropical Sun. Our fuel cans on the sailboat, left in the Sun for years, get a little powder-ish on the surface, but are still sound.

  22. “I’d love to hear how your town, city or state is succeeding with the proper handling of trash of all types.”
    From the looks of things, you will not find any city that has been run for decades by Democrats succeeding in that endeavor.
    Baltimore, LA, San Francisco, Seattle and many more are abject failures and not just with trash but with human waste which is, when they bother, hosed or washed by nature, untreated into storm drains and from there into the rivers or, for the West Coast, into the oceans.
    When I see pictures of them, it’s hard to believe I’m looking at the USA and not Calcutta or other places in the 3rd world.

    • Check out Mount Trashmore Park in Virginia Beach, VA.

      It will be hard to believe this Park was once a smelly, Sea Gull infested, land fill.

  23. Something the greenwits haven’t noticed is that for decades we’ve been spewing tiny particles of vulcanized rubber from car tyres onto the roads and into the water courses. All with no apparent ill effects.

    Of course, as soon as someone does draw their attention to it, it will immediately be an environmental catastrophe.

    • sorry to inform you
      theyve noticed
      and its being mentioned
      thing is the old pure rubber tyres no longer exist i gather and the new ones are blended rubber and plastics.
      gunna be a LOT of ruined roads if we have to drive on our rims

  24. Kip – on the subject of using plastic waste to produce energy. Are there “clean-burn” plastics that do not produce toxic fumes, and if so could we use note of them? Kind of best of both worlds – we get the benefits of plastic, and have a useful way to process the waste.

    • Are there “clean-burn” plastics
      Of course. Plastics that will burn clean consist of *only* C, H, O. These will combust cleanly with no residues at all. Examples of C, H only plastics are polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, and a bunch of others. Add oxygen and you can have plastics based on ethers, esters, alcohols, diols, and a whole lot more. (PVA, poly vinyl alcohol, a plastic which dissolves in water, kewl.)

      The bad ones:
      Anything containing a halogen, F, Br, Cl, I. The problem is twofold. First you get the corresponding halogen byproduct. Then you can get a combustion intermediate which is resistant to further combustion, which might escape, and so makes the whole process more difficult. In addition, some of those intermediates formed can be quite nasty in their own right. PVC is a classic example of this type of plastic.
      Also: Anything with Nitrogen or Sulfur. You get NOx and SOx, more trouble.

      This is just a quick list, a real plastics guy could go on all day on the topic. It is a very rich subject.

      • Phil and TonyL ==> The simple plastics burn clean naturally — the others need plants with scrubbers like clean-burn coal plants. Plastics with halogens especially need srubbers — NOx and SOx are common to almost all types of burning, including of course gasoline and diesel fuels.

  25. It proves an old wisdom: research beats opinion every day. And facts are better than alternative facts. How about PVC and other halogen plastics, do they degrade in a marine environment? Probably sink out of reach of sunlight? Given the plastic waste “tourism” currently in place and the undesired environmental burden I would argue not to separate or recycle plastics and to burn them instead for power and heat generation in the country where generated. Instead of banning plastics the export of plastic waste should be prohibited. In The Netherlands waste cannot be dumped in landfills but needs to be burned meanwhile plastic recycling is stil promoted where everyone can see it is a costly mostly symbolic exercise where most waste ends up being burned after all. This as opposed to our glass and paper recycling and garden and food waste composting which are highly efficient and make sense.

    • Alexander ==> PVC is non-buoyant — it sinks in the ocean. Plastics that sink in the ocean are probably not breaking down – at least not anymore than rocks or glass bottles or steel boats. I’m not sure it makes a difference.

      More countries should concentrate on burning waste.

  26. Hydrocarbons, strictly, contain only hydrogen and carbon. Many of the building blocks of plants are hydrocarbons — like cellulose.

    Sorry Kip, but cellulose is not an hydrocarbon, but a carbohydrate. Cellulose contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in a proportion close to 1 carbon per one oxygen and one hydrogen, or 1 carbon per 1 H2O, hence its name.

    Carbohydrate monomers, like glucose, do contain 1 carbon per 1 H2O, dimers are formed when two monomers are linked together releasing one molecule of H20. If more monomers are added you will get polimers.

  27. Lets hope microbes do not evolve to fast and eat our carpets whilst still on our floors and yogurt cups whilst stil in our fridges…

    • Alexander ==> some have actually proposed breeding purpose-specific microbes to eat plastics in landfills, while others have opposed the idea — for the reason you state.

  28. I should point out that landfills have created the problem with the long deterioration time. They don’t allow organic material to be put in them any more – no heat is generated without yard waste. There is a fine for people putting yard waste in with garbage here. It’s a big mistake. The garbage needs the heat from decomposing yard waste to decompose the plastics, etc.

  29. Beckham [Gregg Beckham, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory] thinks, given how ubiquitous environmental pollution has become, “it is likely that microbes are evolving faster and better strategies to break down man-made plastics. It seems that nature is evolving solutions.”

    Sorry creationists, evolution is proven right there. 🙂

      • They are describing new enzymes formed by changes in the amino acid sequence of old enzymes. That is evolution, not adaptation. Changes in the genetic code of a microorganism is evolution, not adaptation.

        • Leghorn and Urederra ==> Details of definitions makes big differences in these controversial issues.

          Bacteria and other microorganisms change all the time — thus new strains of diseases — their genetic codes are not as stable as we think. Because their lifespan is short and reproduction so frequent, rapid changes take place in seemingly stable populations.

          Feel free to call that whatever you like — it is not really part of the “creation-evolution” battle.

  30. Plastics fall under Kindergarten Rules — Clean up your own messes — Pick up after yourself. Put your trash in the proper trash bin – recyclables go in the Recycle Bin.

    I do that. Here we have plastics recycle bin, glass recycle bin, paper recycle bin, organic material recycle bin, batteries recycle bin, medicines recycle bin, large electronics recycle bin and so on. The nearest beach is about 80 Km away from where I live, and somehow I am being accused by the media of throwing plastics into the sea.

    If there is plastic on the beach it is not my fault, it may be the waste disposal fault, or some “NGO” who litters the landscape with plastic and they film themselves picking the plastic they just dumped so they can ask for funding money. In some videos they even hold banners made of plastic. They have no shame.

      • In Spain, They are not personal bins but communal ones. Some of them are in the street. Organics, plastics, paper, glass, batteries (small containers inside the glass bins) and “”others” are in the street. Other bins for medicines and x ray photographs are in farmacies, bins for fluorescent tubes in some local supermarkets. There is a van at the local farmers market that collects old electronic equipment, but they refuse to collect old CD and DVD disks (remember netscape CDs?) I don’t know in which bin I have to put those disks.

        • Urederra ==> Thanks for the international perspective on recycle bins.

          In the US, las farmacias also accept old medications, auto repair shops accept used motor oil, some municipalities pickup yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, etc) but only in the Fall where I live. Flurotubes have to go to a special county resource recovery site, as do refrigerators and air conditioners.

  31. Hmm, my town and trash of all types. My town is an 25 sq mi island of 700 residents and occasionally 3000 daily tourists. The mean age is >55 and the median income is below poverty criterion.

    Household wet kitchen garbage is expected to be composted, otherwise 15¢/pound in non-recyclable trash bound for a landfill off island.

    Paper is baled and sold. The dump operators are too lazy to pick up paper loose in their yard and have screwed down the rules to where I comingle at 15 ¢/pound. Practically the only paper accepted is cardboard.

    Recyclable plastic and metal is comingled and transported. There is a mountain of scrap metal that is reduced once or twice per year, but is always growing. The ferry charges by the ton and the truck length.

    (Un)sanitary waste is field spread until the ground freezes, and then transported off island. The ferry charges by weight and truck length. Storm runoff, graywater and blackwater are co-mingled by state law. We had a central wastewater facility that was allowed to fail regulatory discharge requirements and decommissioned. The irresponsible operator’s scion acquired license to transport (I believe that malfeasance occurred). POWTS discharge is not regulated or analyzed.

    We live on fractured limestone with very thin and spotty topsoil. The blackwater drains directly to the lake. We can’t afford an anaerobic biodigester, but we can afford the Taj Ma-fire-Hall.

    • Doug Huffman ==> Small islands have a special problem — particularly when overwhelmed by holiday visitors who bring a lot of trash with them and who generate trash (and waste water) while visiting.

      Sounds like you have more problems there than solutions!

  32. I was surprised to find that yogurt cups are polystyrene, the same material as expanded foam cups. I have found that medium sized (5 oz., or so) are the most commonly used ‘tool’ in my workshop. They seem to hold solvents like gasoline, lacquer thinner, xylene, oil, and more, indefinitely, making them useful for mixing cups, brush cleaning, oil drip containers, transfer cups, measuring cups, and holding any useful fluid in the shop. Then get used to hold disassembly pieces, epoxy adhesive mixings, project storage, electronic parts, things that drip, and things that don’t drip.

    I have found (it only took once) that foam cups dissolve in a few seconds when used to hold gasoline. I’m surprised that yogurt cups are made of the made material. They have even worked great for weight loss. I use them as a container for my occasional indulgence in ice cream, and they limit the quantity that can be stuffed into a single container. It’s ultimate recycling!

    • My father, a ChE, was once having engine trouble, bouncing up against the Bloody Point light house on the Chesapeake Bay. He, the startup manager for a new Styrene plant in Big Springs, Texas, tried to transfer gasoline from one tank to rinse out the float bowl on his (non-running) Gray Marine motor.
      I was surprised (actually shocked!) as a 7 yr old, seeing the surprise on his face when the cup melted.

  33. This might be of interest:
    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-10/cuot-apw101819.php

    News Release 18-Oct-2019
    All plastic waste could become new, high-quality plastic through advanced steam cracking
    Chalmers University of Technology
    A research group at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, has developed an efficient process for breaking down any plastic waste to a molecular level. The resulting gases can then be transformed back into new plastics – of the same quality as the original. The new process could transform today’s plastic factories into recycling refineries, within the framework of their existing infrastructure.

    • mikewaite ==> Currently “pie-in-the-sky” but certainly feasible — always was. Plastics are just carbon-hydrogen and a bit of oxygen and other things added in (halogens). They can all be “cracked” given sufficient energy sources and economics (so can discarded human bodies for that matter.)

      Better to burn them for energy or recycyle them in other ways — including ‘cracking’ if it turns out to be economical.

  34. What you are telling me is the “King’s new Clothes” were made of “nano plastic”.

    This is nothing new the Environmental Movement Plastic scare has been round before in the 1970’s. It was all rubbish then and it is rubbish now.

    The Environmental Movement won’t like science like this, even though its true, they will attack! because it upsets their beliefs.

    • Art ==> The glass would last a lot longer (there are a lot of almost-all-glass houses these days).

      “Vinyl siding still won’t last as long as well-maintained wood, but it requires far less upkeep. It almost always outlasts aluminum siding, which has fallen out of fashion. ” [ source ].

      Modern vinyl siding is expected to last 20-40 years — depending on quality. however, get a fire in the house next door, even separated by a side yard, and your siding is likely to melt….

  35. Waste that can be resources:
    A major hit to the Cost of Living of major societies has been perpetrated by uninformed waste management.
    A classic example is the cost of fertilizer for crop growth. A major component is is the waste disposal cost of Phosphogypsum (PG).
    Phosphorus, the “P” in N-P-K fertilizer, is usually measured as an older compound, P2O5, derived from an earlier electric furnace production process. For ever ton of “P2O5” made in a typical fertilizer complex, 5 (five) tons of Calcium Sulfate (dihydrate or hemi-hydrate) are formed for every ton of P2O5 and stored or reused for it’s sulfur value.
    The US Government, in its infinite wisdom has banned the use of slightly radioactive PG for road building, wallboard, soil amendment, etc. All over the world, identical material is used for these diverse cost-reducing end uses. Note that most world agricultural soils are sulfur-deficient.
    Major US fertilizer producers force you to pay for storing PG in big piles (drive thru Central Florida and look for mountains…) at a cost that greatly eclipses the actual profit from Phosphoric Acid. Stupid!
    The Florida Institute of Phosphate Research in Bartow, Florida, now the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute proved years ago that PG added to landfills greatly aids degradation of organics placed in landfills–(I dis-remember any effect on plastics…) and has now investigated PG as a major source of Rare Earths that we currently ship to China as ore (due to the infinite wisdom of the NRC) and buy back at great cost.
    Wonderful sites such as WUWT are one of few places you will read about these amazing events.

    • Enginer01==> It ought to be suitable for some use — even if it is a bit radioactively hot. Obviously not that hot as they pile it up in populated areas.

      How would they use it in road building?

      • Very good question—lowest value use.
        When Florida producers went to an EPA hearing many years ago, they expected to hear reasonable restrictions on it’s (PG) use. In fact, most of the slightly lower LSA gyps from Occidental in North Florida was trucked up to sulfur-loving peanut farms in GA.
        Much to their surprise they were ordered to impound it as a “hazardous waste.” It is no such thing.
        see:
        http://www.aapfco.org/presentations/2018/2018_AN_phosphogypsum.pdf

        This has cost buyers of fertilizers billions of dollars in unnecessary cost, and placed us at a competitive disadvantage to companies overseas.
        I once sat at a restaurant in Morocco, and asked, “What are those sandbars just off shore?” They told me, looking sheepish, “[phospho]gypsum”. Yes, there is some fluorides in PG slurries, but the ocean has got much, much more free calcium, to form highly insoluble calcium fluorides. Not an issue.
        But even OCP (Morocco) is now seeking to profit from PC reuse.

    • In Sweden it is usually used to make gypsum wallboards. Though conceivably the phosphorite used here is less radioactive.

      And it is of course very weakly radioactive. After all it has been sitting around in the ground in Florida for millions of year without doing any damage. Digging it up doesn’t make it more radioactive.

      Though we have a similar problem. We have huge mountains of apatite waste lying around near the iron mines in northern Sweden that could be used instead of phosphorite to make fertilizer, but the EU won’t permit it since it contains an infinitesimally small amount of arsenic.

  36. “Glass, both natural and man-made, is forever, but not plastic.” FALSE!
    Man made glass and obsidian both erode. If they did not the highly abrasion resistant glass based high alumina ceramics my company installed in material handling systems transporting highly abrasive materials would last forever. It does not! You mean to tell me that you have never walked along a beach and found a fragment of what was obviously a man made bottle that has smooth edges from erosion?

    • rah ==> The physical grinding and polishing of sea glass if a physical process caused by knocking the bits of glass against rocks and sand and shell etc. The glass does not break down into its chemical elements — it just gets ground down. This type of abrasion in not the topic here. All of your glass ends up somewhere, albeit in really in tiny bits, but it is still glass.

      Plastic that is eaten by microbes becomes, well, microbe bodies and microbe poop — no longer plastic. When fungi dissolve and ingest plastic, it becomes fungi cells etc. Polystyrene, acted on by the sun, becomes CO2 and/or dissolved organic carbon….no longer plastic.

      • So all rocks and silica sand etc. “are forever”? Are sea shells forever? I think not. Though I understand where your coming from Kip and should have said so in my original post in my view no matter of any type is “forever”. I was taught that all elements have a half-life. Was I taught wrong?

        • Glass is very nearly indestructible, but over very long periods it will devitrify and/or hydrate. For example the small glass spherules created by the Chicxulub impact 66 million years ago, have very largely turned into smectitic clay minerals, but intact glass spherules can still be found in some places:

          http://www.meteoritestudies.com/kt_gorg.jpg

          On the other hand the glasses from the Australasian strewn field, c. 800,000 years old are usually quite well preserved.

        • “I was taught that all elements have a half-life. Was I taught wrong?”

          Yes and no. Theoretically all isotopes of all elements have a half life, but for all ordinary isotopes this half life is so long that it is not measurable. The isotope with the longest measured half-life is tellurium 128 with a half life of 2 x 10^24 years, i e it will take 2 million billion billion years for half of all tellurium 128 to break down. Nearly all isotopes of ordinary elements are more stable than this.

          • tty,
            Every isotope heavier than iron must have a half life, as energy is released when these isotopes fall apart. For the lighter stable isotopes the decay rate of the proton (present lower estimate of half life > 10^34 years) determines their stability.

    • E.S. ==> The good and bad depend a lot on point of view. Helping to dissolve the Titanic (which does not really belong at the bottom of the sea) could be good. They are just doing what microbes do — eat stuff.

      I put a special chemical additive in my boat’s diesel fuel tank to prevent microbes from growing in the diesel — they create sludgey stuff with clogs the filters.

      • At our trucking company we changed the cold weather fuel treatment we were using back to the old alcohol based stuff because the one we were using caused microbes to grow that clogged the fuel injectors.

        • rah ==> Here in the Northeastern US, we used to have to add alcohol to our gas tanks in the winter to counteract the condensation of water into the tanks. Now our gas comes with 10% or 15% ethanol — whether we like it or not.

          It is still possible to get ethanol free gasoline for our outboards and other small engines — but we pay Premium prices.

  37. For those who are interested in digging more deeply into the subject of our waste stream and the recycling of our waste materials, I recommend a book titled Rubbish! The Archeology of Garbage, ISBN 0-06-16603-7. The co-authors are William Rathje and Cullen Murphy. Rathje, an archeologist, was the founder of the Tucson Garbage Project. Their book describes the methodologies that were used in applying classical archeology techniques to modern garbage dumps and what they found. There are also some interesting economical assessments of the societal costs of recycling. While I hesitate to cite the NYTimes for anything, there is a good review of the book at: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/05/books/we-are-what-we-throw-away.html

  38. KH – not so sure about glass being forever.
    In the geologic record volcanic glass devitrifies (ie develops an ordered crystalline structure and so, therefore, is not glass).
    It is rare to find volcanic glass in pre-Tertiary aged rocks. Presumably, Bud bottles will enjoy the same fate in the future.
    Now a diamond (or perhaps a zircon) – that’s forever.

    • nvw ==> Well, maybe not forever — I have collected lots of obsidian from the deserts of California and Arizona — as bright and shiny as the day it was formed.

  39. A great deal of the excess packaging in the retail industry is to decrease shoplifting and prevent customers from damaging goods. As such, it is apparently an economical solution to serious problems. This might be one of the places for degradeable material, but you would have to consider shelf life. Water-soluble would not work, because sweaty hands would make packaging look unattractive.

    • Fran ==> That is an interesting point …. largish clear plastic packaging to prevent theft — maybe.

      Sounds like the WalMart approach — which I find abhorrent.

      There are many packaging options already available today that would pass the test for landfill-ready disposal.

      Most degradable plastics require sunlight and/or moisture plus time . . . and have shelf-lives longer than the products they would be packaging.

  40. I always found the statement “Plastic water bottles will remain in landfills for hundreds of years” to be particularly egregious. The vast majority of such bottles are made of polyethylene, which is largely made from natural gas product feedstocks (not petroleum) such as ethane and ethene. These substances have been in underground storage for hundreds of millions of years. Human beings extract them from the ground, turn them into something useful to us, then return that object to the ground from whence it came. And the complaint is that it will be there for hundreds of years. As if the previous hundreds of millions of years residence hadn’t happened.

    The actual (unstated) complaint is that human beings made something very useful for themselves out of something that had no other use. The anti-plastic people are actually anti-human.

    • Michael ==> I have had one commenter here today that it very upset at the idea that PET bottles and polystyrene are naturally degraded.

  41. Many of you will be familiar with the plastic sheet roofing supplied for the cheap, easily assembled, portable gazebos people use for temporary shade at summer gatherings. I have purchased a few over the years but gave up on them because they are not only too flimsy for New Zealand conditions, living in the “Roaring Forties” is a good test for most outdoor furniture and tenting materials. On top of that I left one damaged gazebo cover out in full sunlit for a year. By the end it had almost totally disintegrated into very small bits! As with a lot of things we can blame it on the sun.

    • Ian ==> when my wife and I were sailing the Caribbean we had the same problem with the white plastic tarps we used for shade from the hot tropical sun. we resigned ourselves to getting only one season out of them.

    • Most plastic have a very short life here in the Arizona sun and heat. Plastic buckets shatter from exposure to the heat last about one or two summers in my unheated shed. Same for plastic bags they turn to powder. Plastic in the sun is toast in a very short time walking in the desert lost or discarded water bottles just disintegrate in the sun the side that facing the sun just disappears. PVC does the same. I one saw a discarded PVC elbow that the top half was just gone. The steel cans around it were rusted but still there.

      • Mark ==> Yes, the magic formula for much of organic chemistry == heat, oxygen + sunlight (UV mostly) — Stir or shake.

  42. Common familiarity with Visqueen, the black plastic tarp used to reduce weeds for desert landscaping, make it difficult to make the case for plastics in general.

    Perhaps it’s the aromatic plastics, such as polystyrene, that are able to attract the pests which devour them.

          • Kip, this would be good news, however, the Visqueen polyethylene sheets are already resistant to soil burial:

            Conclusion and recommendations

            The present work indicates that naturally growing soil microbes like bacteria and fungi show great efficacy in degrading polyethylene…”

            These show that the top listed microbes listed in the paper above are ubiquitous:
            https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1178636118810366
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aspergillus_fumigatus

            This is an example of the application of the tarp:

          • miguel ==> Highly engineered materials can be quite tricky — but I fear that low density polyethylene may not be the long-life product claimed. The time factor is relative, of course, one doesn’t expect landscaping weed-block cloth to last a hundred years…just a few years — maybe a decade.

          • Kip, quite to the contrary, universal experience with the efficacy of plastic tarps calls into question the study.

            For example, exactly how thin are the plastic sheets used for the study? The tarps are typically 6 mil. No mention of the thickness of the sheets used is included in the study, so that the percentage consumed by weight over time is meaningless.

            Furthermore, the study leads the reader to believe that the study was not optimized for the microbe environment, and therefore seeks further funding. Yet, in a typical soil environment, the ubiquitous microbes obviously prefer their conventional nutrition sources versus consuming plastic tarp.

            I wish there was a panacea to rid ourselves of plastic waist, except none is available for products engineered to be essentially indestructible in the intended environment.

          • Kip, in this YouTube, the homeowner complains that the tarp has worked as described for approximately 15 years. He blames Visqueen for the death of his cactus (which he failed to properly irrigate): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPk4yxcWVDc

            It’s a myth that the plastic tarp reduces landscaping and watering costs.

            Instead, the extensive irrigation system requires constant maintenance to keep the landscape presentable.

          • miguel ==> Not my area of expertise. We have used weed-block cloth and mud-block cloth for various purposes.

  43. “Exactly why aren’t the anti-plastics people fighting GLASS — glass jars, glass bottles, window glass, auto glass, etc — which is almost literally “Forever” — it will never be broken down in the sense used in the plastics issue.”

    Plastics are absolutely horrible for storing anything sensitive to moisture; especially, those substances that must stay dry or stay wet.

    I have tried to use glass to store perishables and substances with alcohols or salt.
    Whiskies and vodkas sold in plastic bottles taste of plastic.
    Kosher salt stored in plastic bottles pulls moisture from the air.

    Dry foods stored in plastic get stale or moist foods dry out quite quickly. Want vanilla beans to stay plump and soft? Don’t store them in plastic!

    “Glass is forever”?
    Utter BS!

    Glass represents pieces of sand, only temporarily larger.
    Find a pieces of glass at the beach? Rough, eroded, rounded edges or vanishingly small as it erodes away.
    Yet people are surprised to learn that much of that glass is young with ages measured in decades, not hundreds of year.

    Old glass, even broken old glass objects can be worth quite a bit of money. Out in the American West, glass hunters are thrilled when they find untouched refuse heaps or latrines. Happily digging through a few decades of leftover mulch from earlier use.
    The same will happen to those “middens”. I’ve wondered when someone will design and construct a trash dump mining company.
    Like most mining operations, it takes demand that causes one form of trash to be valuable.

    If the recyclable folks have difficulty separating glass, that is their foolish failure!
    Glass and metals have been recyclable for many decades, well before plastics arrived.

    Glass manufactures and even artists treasure “cullet”; i.e. broken glass.
    Cullet melts easier and helps melt the basics materials used to make batches of glass.
    Waste glass from the manufacturing process is reprocessed as cullet, but most glass furnace lack enough waste cullet from previous processes to fill their need for cullet.

    Pretty much the same situation surrounds recycling steels and other metals.
    It’s one reason copper and bronze has been the subject of theft. The current value is high enough to cause thieves to strip buildings.

    I’ve worked in a steel plant and watched railroad cars of rusty metals fed to the furnaces. All without first getting processed through the iron smelting process.

    Historically, we are not far removed from a populace that seriously recycled products. Then again, products were made for long life and reuse.
    Back then, most people had undergone serious deprivation; Depression years; World War II coupons; Paying back loans after either of the World Wars; famine…
    Modern society in some countries has staved off disasters. Temporarily.
    That does not mean disastrous events are banished forever. All one needs is to look around the world to find them happening, still.

    Modern society is only weeks from experiencing similar events.

    The use and discard generation in a few societies really needs to relearn and pay attention to reality and life.
    Sadly, elites in several countries are bent upon forcing people to believe food spontaneously appears in grocery stores and urban homes where trash just goes away, never to be seen again.

  44. Love the article. My questions, however:
    What do the remains of the plastic eating mealworms consist of?
    As the plastic degrades in the oceans, what are the effects on various organisms that ingest various degraded forms of these hydrocarbons?

    • Marz ==> Since the plastics in the studies are hydrocarbons, they are essentially just carbon and hydrogen — digested they become the building blocks for microbial cells and used (oxidized) for energy. Those uses primarily result in CO2 and water (H2O).

      • Thank you for responding, Kip. However, while I suspect that the breakdowns of the hydrocarbons are benign, I think it would be important to let microbiologists and biologists weigh in on that before assuming too much. After all, there are many simple combinations of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen that are noxious to many life forms. Regardless of these concerns, however, if there are studies which delve into the molecular processes involved, then let there be light! Regards.

        • Marz ==> The simpler the compounds, the simpler and less worrisome the byproducts of digestion. Of course, we don’t control the process — that is Nature doing its thing.

          • I suspect you are correct in your conclusions but I can’t help but cast a skeptical eye on any aspect of a study which assumes something or other thereby opening up breeches which the trolls of alarmism might use to discredit otherwise valuable research.

  45. I don’t see any comments about a company called Plastic2oil which is certified in New York state to run a pyrolizing unit . there are a few utube videos on the system and how it works. check it out.

  46. Kip,

    About 40 some years ago, Columbus Ohio built a ‘cash burning power plant’ that tried to dispose of trash in a productive way. They eventually gave up on it due to a multitude of failure modes. Things like propane bottles would sneak through. With Battelle being there, I think there were efforts to perfect the process, but it might have been before its time. There might be studies that evaluated its failures.

    I wonder if today, that robotics and AI could be deployed to automate the screening process.

    • H_sqd ==> Yeah — direct-t- furnace is probably a problem for the “whole trash stream” approach. But I think that plastics can be easily separated by consumers or left with regular post-consumer household/paper trash.

  47. So if someone wanted to break down their househld plastic waste, and didn’t live in a hot environ, what are the options?

    • AlexB ==> Why would someone want to do that? If it is recyclable, put it in the right rolly-bin. If it is not readily recyclable, put it in the municipal trash stream for land-filling (or, if your community is blessed with a waste-to-energy plant — burned).

      Do it yourself decomposition of plastics is not really economically feasible.

  48. Epilogue:

    The long-standing plastics controversy proved itself still active, with a couple of anti-plastics agitators showing up to fight the scientific findings that Nature is finding ways to eliminate errant plastic from the natural environment. I still have not figured out why these newly discovered facts are so threatening to some that they find it necessary to challenge them — they are just interesting facts, after all.

    Reader input shows that many localities are having problems with the trash — recyclables not being recycled, plastics no longer being accepted in Asia for recycling, push-back against waste-to-energy plants. There are some areas that are being successful.

    The oddest thing is the reluctance to support landfilling — it has always seemed more reasonable to me to put all the trash in a few designated places, properly handled and engineered, than to spread it all over the place.

    There is far too much trash — of all kinds — and a better society-wide approach will eventually be needed.

    Thanks for reading.

    # # # # #

    • Hey Kip, the issue is that I can’t take your message, “Plastics: Science is winning,” to my homeowner and landscaping friends without them laughing in my face!

  49. Recycling Scam
    Here in NZ most Regions and Districts provide recycling bins if your refuse is collected and “Transfer Stations” where folks can drop off their “recyclables” and trash (a standard fee applies to trash collected or dropped off amounting to about $3/standard sized trash bag). The “recyclables” are then shipped off to some poor nation in SE Asia for them to pollute on our behalf.

    Living on a small “Better Than Organic” homestead, 99% or more of our trash is plastic packaging, which cost us the standard theft/fee of $3.00/bag. As Indonesia and other polluting proxies are now returning or refusing our recyclables, some of us have decided that the very best thing we can do with our “trash” plastics is incinerate them in situ, thereby avoiding the fees and preventing concentration of these “trash” plastics. In time, we may do the same with our so-called “Recyclable” proxy pollution.

    Incinerating in situ will save us a whopping $18/year in government theft (fees) since it takes us a couple months to fill a trash bag. We also “re-purpose” by using empty feed bags made of woven plastic because we can really pack them full of “trash” plastic. We tie the bags off with plastic baling twine that holds our straw bales together, so we’re able to dispose of even more “trash” plastic.

    If we don’t incinerate our “recyclable” trash it will become yet another reason for government to increase the amount of theft (taxes) so that “we” can be responsible members of the planet. The government will likely decide to incinerate our “recyclable” trash, but do so with all the inefficiency, graft and budgetary over runs they are capable of. So we’re likely to become Environmental Activists calling for everyone on the planet to “Just Burn It All down.”

    • Alexander Zayachkov ==> Home incineration of plastic packaging material is certainly better than scattering it around the neighborhood.

      Have you no use for the heat generated? Trash-fired water heater for the hot tub?

    • nc ==> You tell us why you are concerned about “chemicals”…… all matter is made of chemicals….almost all chemicals are harmful to something mat some dose or other.

  50. “The most recent paper on the subject of pelagic plastic (plastic floating in the oceans) is from a scientific team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

    Why do Anglo-Saxons refer to Latin “pelagic”
    while Anglo-Saxon stems from platt dytsch spoken in eg plattdütsch spoken in eg Hammborch, Brem’n and related northern German, Atlantic coastal areas.


    Which Greek islands are in the Aegean Sea?

    The Aegean Islands (Greek: Νησιά Αιγαίου, romanized: Nisiá Aigaíou; Turkish: Ege Adaları) are the group of islands in the Aegean Sea, with mainland Greece to the west and north and Turkey to the east;

    the island of Crete delimits the sea to the south, those of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kasos to the southeast.”

    https://www.google.com/search?client=ms-android-huawei&sxsrf=ACYBGNQNl4OA99nlRjQ8MVO6X7_fBjqM6g:1572284717840&q=aegean+sea+islands&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiYut6Awb_lAhXKlIsKHeUkD3oQ1QIwG3oECAwQAg&biw=360&bih=574

    Just asking.

  51. “The most recent paper on the subject of pelagic plastic (plastic floating in the oceans) is from a scientific team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

    Why do Anglo-Saxons refer to Latin “pelagic”
    while Anglo-Saxon stems from plattdütsch spoken in e.g. Hammborch, Brem’n and related Northern German, Atlantic coastal areas.”

    Which Greek islands are in the Aegean Sea?

    The Aegean Islands (Greek: Νησιά Αιγαίου, romanized: Nisiá Aigaíou; Turkish: Ege Adaları) are the group of islands in the Aegean Sea, with mainland Greece to the west and north and Turkey to the east;

    the island of Crete delimits the sea to the south, those of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kasos to the southeast.”

    https://www.google.com/search?client=ms-android-huawei&sxsrf=ACYBGNQNl4OA99nlRjQ8MVO6X7_fBjqM6g:1572284717840&q=aegean+sea+islands&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiYut6Awb_lAhXKlIsKHeUkD3oQ1QIwG3oECAwQAg&biw=360&bih=574

    Just asking.

  52. thus challenge the prevailing assumption that polystyrene persists in the environment for millennia.” [ bolding mine — kh ]

    It is about time that someone scientifically challenged the activist position held and promulgated by many environmental, anti-plastics and anti-corporate groups that “Plastic is Forever”.

    Plastic is not forever. Glass, both natural and man-made, is forever, but not plastic.

    What are plastics?

    Plastics are hydrocarbons. That is, plastics are primarily made of hydrogen and carbon combined into various configurations. And, when Nature adds oxygen and nitrogen, we get the substance of all living things (that we know of).

    Plastic is not forever. Glass, both natural and man-made, is forever, but not plastic.

    Glass is very quickly grated, pulverized by various environmental factors.

    What’s left is silicates. – needed for fermentation.

  53. How about you NOT link to an external site that is paid access only? (popsci.com). Or put a note next to the links saying they’re a paid site so we don’t waste our time on them.

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