The Plastic Waste Problem

November 18, 2009 at 12:52 PM Leave a comment

Plastics Have Revolutionized Our World

Today, plastic touches every aspect of our daily lives in some way. It keeps the foods we eat fresh, the medicines we take secure, and the homes we live in safe. As a result of our dependence on plastic, consumption is increasing at a rapid pace. In fact, the global culture of consumerism relies upon plastic for its very existence. The overall plastic market is growing at a rate of more than 7% per year. In 2005, over 230 million metric tons (over 500 billion pounds) of plastic was produced  globally.

What Do We Do With All This Plastic Afgter Its Useful Life?

There are currently four major options for the disposal of waste plastic:
recycling, landfill, incineration, and dumping. We have come to the sobering realization that all four methods are fraught with severe drawbacks and limitations. Current disposal methods no longer fit our needs. Incineration, landfill, and dumping present harmful environmental impacts and recycling has proven to be both expensive and inefficient. We are running out of options and the world needs a new solution.

Extracting Oil for Plastics

In 2008, more than 85 million barrels of crude oil were extracted daily worldwide. After extraction, refineries process crude oil into different refined petroleum products including liquefied petroleum gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, distillate fuel oil, jet fuel, lubricants, petrochemical feedstock, petroleum coke, and asphalt. Plastic production uses 8% of the world’s oil production, with 4% used as feedstock and 4% providing the energy required for plastic production.

Since plastic is a derivative of petroleum, plastic possesses a commensurately high level of stored energy content. The energy density of polyethylene (PE), polystyrene (PS), and polypropylene (PP) is comparable to that of gasoline and is approximately 51% higher than that of coal. Unfortunately, this high level of energy literally “goes to waste” when plastic waste products are discarded. In 2007 the United States produced 58 million tons of plastic, from which 48 million tons of plastic waste entered the nation’s waste stream.


Entry filed under: recycling. Tags: , , .

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