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TIL humans have consumed 9.2b tons of plastic. 6b will never meet recycling bin (lemonade.com)
35 points by cryptofits 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 12 comments



This article doesn’t really cover the main questions about recycling plastic, like does it have any negative impact on the environment when you throw away plastic.

The case for “no”: https://medium.com/@robertwiblin/what-you-think-about-landfi...


I've noticed this weird pattern where articles that try to put you off recycling often don't actually support that thesis. I guess it's admirable that they usually stick close enough to the truth that it's obvious they're trying to spin things, but what leads someone with sufficient integrity to do that to write it in the first place?

Is it some kind of game to convince people to do silly stuff while literally telling them that it's a bad idea?

E.g

> But for some kinds of plastic in some places recycling is indeed the better option, even if the net gain isn’t that huge.

With a link to this:

https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics#recycling-landfil...

Which says:

> Recycling had the lowest global warming potential and energy use across nearly all of the studies. From an environmental perspective, recycling is usually the best option

It lists 37 comparisons and landfill beats recycling in 2 of them (they also tied in one), with recycling nearly always beating both landfill and incineration, and landfill often being the worst of the three. I've read other meta studies that agree with this, it's the real consensus view.

But, I don't understand why they would link to this source and still overall try to imply the the opposite argument is true, it makes no sense to me? Why not just not link to it if they don't want to accept the findings? Why not link direct to the two studies that claims recycling doesn't beat landfill? If you're going to argue something not supported by science then don't link to the science. This seems basic but it's a definite pattern.

And I guess that recursively applies to you, why would you link to an article that debunks the very point you're trying to make?


I'm not sure "debunks" is the word here, because reading that meta-analysis doesn't get me very far.

There's not much to it other than a simple table and it's hard to interpret. What is "global warming potential" and "total energy use"? In the studies that say recycling is better, on what grounds do they conclude that, and are the conditions they're assuming realistic?

The next step would be reading the individual studies and figuring out how they work, which is more than I'm going to do for a casual Internet conversation. The links and references would be a good starting point for someone willing to do the work, though.

And to answer your question, sharing links is generally pretty useful for people who want to dig deeper, and we should do more of it.


On a first take, I assumed the title was referring to microplastics (e.g., the literal consumption of plastic), but then I realized we probably have no idea how much microplastic is inside humans (and all other animals), and what the long-term consequences will be.

I'm fine with the idea of plastic, but single-use plastic has got to go. We shouldn't accept the disposal of plastic into our waterways and food chain without scientific researching proving that microplastics are safe-- though it's doubtful they are. Why do we invent new physical things without first considering the consequence of the lifecycle of the product? If plastic was invented today, no regulatory body would allow us to use it as we do.


The article assumes there is a problem without talking about landfills or incineration.

If you want to make sure plastic never gets into the ocean, disposing of it properly should do it. If it doesn't, something is wrong with how garbage disposal is done and that needs to be fixed.


How do you dispose of plastic properly? Even landfill doesn't cut it - the stuff just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. These microplastics then enter the groundwater, and from there find their way into almost every part of our environment.


This is true, landfills aren't perfect. However it's better than our current "Recycling" which just ships the plastic off to 3rd world countries to be burned or buried.

To be honest, I think micro-plastics are the among least hazardous things that can leak from a landfill. Also a landfill is usually local as possible and doesn't require much energy.

The answer will always be "Use less of the junk." But I feel guilty putting plastic in the recycling bin.


Landfills do monitoring to make sure stuff doesn't enter the groundwater, though I don't know how effective it is? Maybe they should get better at it?

There are also some unanswered questions here about where microplastics in the environment actually come from. I would expect litter to be a much larger source? How about fishing equipment?

I would expect stuff in a landfill to be less likely to get out than any other way. It seems like an easier problem to solve?


Not mentioned is the use of plastic by health care. In a hospital, each patient generates a large stream of plastic for disposal.


This is a great example of an important and valid use for plastic! For the number of lives this saves - and one is enough - this is an achievement to be proud of.

With promising new startups such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems (this is the talk to start with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkpqA8yG9T4), I'm not going to worry about the garbage problem. My bet is that we'll see proof of fusion's viability within the next decade. In the era that follows, people will be literally mining landfills for raw materials to separate into perfect piles of feedstock. A 1e8 C plasma will strip the electrons off of any atoms you place inside it, and you can magnetically separate the charged nuclei.

And if I'm wrong about any of that, a few more decades of landfill use isn't going to change anything anyway. http://jmc.stanford.edu/commentary/progress/index.html


The answer has always been a source of cheap, clean, abundant, and safe energy. But I'm not very optimistic about seeing it in my lifetime aside from maybe next generation fission plants. It WILL happen, just not anytime soon. We may see a fusion plant going positive soon, but probably not for a price we can afford commercially.


The article is four pages long, why should this special use case be mentioned? Hospitals have very particular needs when it comes to hygiene. It's one of the few cases where single-use and air-tight packaging is required.




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