In reality, only about 5% of our crude oil use goes towards plastic.
If we rolled out EVs, and then just burned all the plastic trash (using waste-to-energy plants), we would still be far ahead.
The biggest challenges with plastics are hormone disruption, and microplastics (particularly in the 3rd world without sufficient landfill or W2E infrastructure or societal environmental concern). If these new plastics are less molecularly stable, these issues may actually be worsened.
Plastic bags do no harm buried in the landfill, and we’re not running out of land.
I bike along the roads in town, and I see plastic bags in the gutter. I look down the incline beside the road and there are plastic bags in the trees.
Is the USA as bad as Morocco? No. Is plastic waste a problem? Yes.
A plastic bag can be quite sturdy, it can be transparent so you can easily see what's inside, it's light, it folds well, is resistant to humidity, etc.
If you'd give a plastic bag to someone from the 18th century they'd cherish it.
We need to make it so the average person actually cares about buying a bag.
Something like €2 with a return value of €1. Or anything that makes you treat it like you'd treat, say, a good tennis ball. You wouldn't just throw those away willy-nilly.
And we need to ban the low grade ones completely.
Something very similar is happening in north korea.
I would be more amenable to the idea if they made a bag that does not get torn (e.g. armor the paper with cotton or bamboo thread), and is leak-resistant (e.g. waxed), but that somehow takes the back seat.
You do know that we're creating country sized plastic patches in the middle of the Pacific, microplastics are everywhere and we're eating them, they're slowly changing us in ways we don't even understand, etc, etc?
People used to assume that dumping sewage in the streets was just fine, but it led to cholera outbreaks . There was no push to change that until it became a major problem and something had to be done. Sure, we can assume burying plastic will be a solution forever. But is it not better to avoid risking the event where it suddenly is a problem, and try and mitigate it now?
(Personally, I think so, but it is one of things that will be forever debatable.)
Yes it is. Just because some decision made in the past is wrong doesn't mean a different decision made in the present is also wrong. There is no harm to landfill, and we know it quite well by now.
Dumping our trash in the ground is lazy and I just don't understand how anyone wants to defend it.
The options are to make a pile of it, bury a pile of it (ocean or land), burn a pile of it, or eject a pile of it into space, while recycling what we can to reduce load on the aforementioned options (often far, far less than people imagine, btw).
So it’s not an issue of people desiring to put their dirty diapers in the ground for its own sake, but it being the better of several shittier options.
Fundamentally we all make too much trash. Each of us. But while that problem is being worked we still need to put it somewhere where it minimizes sanitation and environmental risk.
Far from being lazy, modern landfills are pretty meticulously engineered for surface reclamation in the developed world. You are probably acting more responsible by putting developed-world trash in a developed-world landfill than by shipping it across the ocean in container barges to the developing world, where often as not it just ends up in an unmanaged, seeping pile (assuming it makes it to and stays on land).
There’s a lot of wishful thinking about what to do with garbage (if “we” only..., “people” just need to...), but the best thing any of us as individuals can do is obsessively reuse finished materials without becoming hoarders, donate, and consume less (opt out of gratuitous packaging, don’t buy tchotchkes for decorations or gifts, buy things that will last for decades or generations, not seasons or years).
Or at least, it used to. I think most plastic "recycling" is now going into local landfills.
That isn't true (and was never true). Trash in Asia that ends up in the ocean is local trash.
Even back when Asia bought recycling from us there wasn't much trash in it, and even the trash that was there didn't end up in the ocean.
The stuff in the ocean is what litters the streets, and then goes in rivers during rain storms.
But you are right, the amount of councils sending recycling to landfill is very sad.
And it's only going to get worse unless we do something about it. Recycling is far worse than just taxing negative externalities and making the companies upstream use biodegradeable materials.
For aluminum, recycling is incredibly important. It reduces the need for environmentally-destructive aluminum mining and energy intensive smelting.
For paper, recycling high quality paper like clean office paper and some cardboard reduces the demand for virgin wood pulp. Lower quality paper gets thrown away.
Also, shout-out to composting - food and yard scraps breaking down in a well aerated environment produces fewer greenhouse gasses than landfills.
If people are pissed about how much stuff they are throwing into the trash... go look at the incredible amount of packaging material that gets thrown out....
My city actually has this - we were all given bright green compost bins and instructions for composting. The amazing thing about municipal composting is that they can handle way more types of food scraps (e.g. bones and fruit pits) than backyard composting bins. They come pick it up every week just like the trash and recycling.
Unfortunately, it seems like I'm one of two or three people on my street who compost my food scraps every week. I think composting should really be easier for people to figure out than recycling - it's so simple to know what you should and should not compost (as it says on the front of every green bin, "If it grows, it goes").
I must admit I am surprised that anyone needs to justify the merits of recycling, so I'm curious what your outlook is. What makes you question the need for recycling?
> What makes you question the need for recycling?
The environment makes me question it. Everything I've seen shows recycling anything except metal is bad for the environment. We only do it because it makes people "feel good".
The right thing to do with:
Metal: recycle it
Glass: bury it
Paper: bury it
Plastic: burn it
Everything else: bury it
Additionally glass is harmless in the environment, and it's not something we can ever run out of.
So why do it?
Additionally, if you actually do want to recycle things, glass shards contaminate everything, making it much more difficult and expensive (i.e. consumes more resources) to do it.
Making new glass can be an issue, as it typically uses sand, which is not very renewable and sand mining in many countries causes massive issues with flooding, droughts, sinking, black markets, even sand mafia!
No we should not landfill everything after a single use, or we will soon run out of reasonably accessible raw materials in suitable forms.
And no, we will never run out of it - the planet is made of it.
The work towards truly biodegrade plastic is generally from the other end; identifying or making organisms that can break down the polymers themselves. Those don’t seem to be commercially viable, and in themselves won’t address environmental plastic pollution.
Granted the biodegradability of many formulations is still far too long and requires unrealistic circumstances to happen in the wild (hot composting for example).
Apart from that, what problem are you trying to solve with this innovation?
In fact bio-derived plastic buried in the landfill is carbon-negative and should be encourged!
But then how are we not at the same solution? Burn the plastic garbage (in place of coal or natural gas) to generate electricity.
Even better if they were plant-based plastics to begin with, because then it's renewable energy.
Edit: Just to be clear, I’m not trying to say that this is a viable solution to anything, or that it’s a good use of resources based on our current methodologies. I’m more just trying to say that there’s so much raw material out there and that it’s better if it comes out of the ocean. Like, if suddenly we found a non-polluting method to perfectly separate out all the components, then a health-safe chemical mixture with those components that was solid and fireproof (and UV proof), there’s probably enough out there to do something significant with.
If microplastic turns out to be as serious a problem as has been suggested, with bioaccumulation and various sorts of damage, then the only solution is that all plastic without exception has to be thoroughly destroyed chemically or by burning as soon as it it isn't in use. And not put into use in ways that emit microplastic (as fibers, dust, or otherwise).
Plus, since asphalt’s petroleum-tar binder is liquified during the working process, it would actually act as a solvent perfect for dissolving (certain) microplastics into. The microplastics wouldn’t merely be in mechanical mixture with the asphalt; they wouldn’t exist as distinct entities any more! They’d revert to being a petroleum fraction, in complex with the heavier petroleum fractions of the tar.
We need to catch the plastics before they go into the environment, disintegrate, release their plasticizers and other toxins.
As has been said, best way to deal with all the plastic garbage that contains who-knows-what would probably be fuel, feedstock in refineries or similar.
... slowly leaching endocrine disruptors in the environment for generations to come.
No, it can't.
Then you should welcome pandemic, genocide and war.
Over my cold dead body [and I won't go without a fight.].
What are they gonna do, line me up and execute me and my family ? Kill my children ? Fortunately, Rights are still a thing, including the 2nd.
The birth rate everywhere outside Africa has already collapsed, anyway. It's probably too low.
Funny thing is that Malthus already recognized the effects that artificial birth control can have on the reproductive rate and was worried about that - I don't the the citation at hand though.
I agree that the birth rate outside Sub-Saharan Africa is probably too low and I think that this will become an issue, probably first in China, then the EU and finally in the USA.
I think we are seeing people having fewer children because they're depressed about the world/future expectations, of course, but that's not quite the same thing.
Plastic in the ocean isn't an easy problem to solve with anything other than wait for it to degrade. Which isn't as bad as it sounds because plastic doesn't do well in the sun, and we can easily make plastics that do worse and thus degrade faster.
You should probably stop assuming that.
Since you sound so excited, are you going to live in the first plastic house with your family?
I think suggestions like this are super demeaning. I often see them coming from privileged knowledge workers, who are eager to share ‘free ideas‘/psuedo-solutions as a sort of ‘charity’ for poor people (and people in the global south). They are also often strategies which somehow don’t seem to fit for their own life - and instead are for ‘others’ who are less well off.
In other words: tech solutionism.
As knowledge workers, let’s try to cut through our false consciousness and come up with some awesome systemic changes that kick butt.
I’ve edited my comment to clarify the subtext, but to answer your question: if we could find a health-safe fire and UV-resistant plastic formula that made solid building materials out of the pollution in the ocean, I would definitely live in the first plastic house with my family. It could survive hundreds of years and have a lot of benefits.
Now we're told we must pay a premium for recyclable plastic. Personally I'd rather pay a premium for paper because it's made from a renewable resource. Plus paper will decompose within two months in nature.
The only drawback I can find is that paper bags take more water to produce than plastic. Sitting in a Great Lakes state that problem doesn't bother me.
And for all the Portlanders saving a plastic bag there's a Texan buying all their drinking water as pallets of disposable single use plastic bottles.
I think we should just take the japan route - use plastic, try your best to be judicious and then just incinerate it.
Japan's electricity is also so coal-based that using Japanese factories is starting to violate US companies' clean energy rules.
There are bioplatic liners for paper coffee cups that allow them to be fully compostable, though. I have sitting next to me one made from the World Centric brand that uses the "Ingeo PLA" for the liner, and I compost these cups in my backyard. I only use them when it's inconvenient to not use a regular mug.
Both are good sturdy canvas and can easily be patched and repaired by anyone with basic sewing skills, some thread and a scrap of additional fabric.
Between those two bags and a military surplus canvas shoulder bag, I can take care of 99% of my shopping on foot or by bicycle (baskets and panniers are wonderful inventions), and I haven't had to buy a plastic bag in years.
# Reuses needed to break-even with standard single-use plastic bag (LDPE;Low-density polyethylene)
Organic cotton - 20,000 reuses
Conventional cotton - 7,100 reuses
Composite - 870 reuses
Recycled PET - 84 reuses
Polypropylene, non-woven, recycled - 52 reuses
Polypropylene, woven, recycled - 45 reuses
Unbleached paper - 43 reuses
Bleached paper - 43 reuses
Biopolymer - 42 reuses
Polyester PET, recycled - 35 reuses
It's clearly bad for the environment and has long term costs, but there basically isn't any way economics to calculate that or incent it to not be done.
So IMO, recycling is an exploratory exercise in seeing if we can socially engineer behavior that is "better". The cynic would say "it doesn't", but I could argue civilization is built on short term economic calculations and resulting social/behavioral engineering that makes that impossible.
If there was any way to know, I'd be fascinated to see if there are real measurements in the drop in altruism, either from the psychological conditioning of our society, or making altruistic people less able to procreate.
We need to prohibit Western companies from packaging food and FMCG for the developing world in plastic - until both the disposal infrastructure and societal attitudes around pollution and environmental management change. Or, charge those polluters to build that infrastructure or change those attitudes.
Here are the biggest polluters:
Phillip Morris (USA)
Perfetti van Melle (Italy)
I would suggest that a targeted protest and political lobbying campaign against the headquarters of those companies would be more effective than any individual effort to clean up plastic pollution.
That article is about the countries raising their standards for the sorted material they accept, not about the typical journey that Australian waste takes. Just think about what a non existent amount of material 100 tonnes is for a country of 25 million people. Millions of tons of waste a year just in NSW: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/what-sydney-is-really-th...
Countries that recycle plastic have people pick out the good bits cheaply in hellish facilities, profit off selling the high grade recycling, the rest is "waste waste" to be gotten rid of somehow. Dumping it in the ocean is quite cheap.
The sorted plastic used to be a thing that you could mix with virgin plastic to get a cheaper product.
Since China's waste import bans, I believe it's actually more expensive than virgin plastic, partly because it costs more to produce now and partly because demand is driven by manufacturers who want to have a certain % recycled plastic in their product for marketing reasons.
The higher price incentivises other countries to import and process mixed plastic waste instead. They of course will also have to find a way to get rid of the not-useful portions of mixed plastic waste.
(This addresses your second paragraph; if they are selling the high grade and putting the rest in the landfill...)
I mean, your argument is good but I feel it's contradicted by reality in a sense; megatons of waste plastic were being sent to China before the import ban.
You have to pay to put stuff in landfill, whereas the recyclers were paying _you_ to take the waste.
I think you might also be surprised by the cost of landfill. Sure, there's plenty of space, but there's not as much government approved, environmentally audited space as you might want - that won't leach into the water table, has good geography, neighbours who won't NIMBY it, no rare frogs that live there etc. Obviously it all needs ISO 27000 management, union labour and regular safety and environmental audits.
Caring about none of the above is how Chinese waste entrepreneurs could take mixed plastic from 1/2 way around the world and make a profit out of it, instead of losing money putting it into the ground. Their margins are slim and they have to pay for landfill too (much less of course), so dumping it in the ocean or similar saves money unless they get caught.
(For what it's worth I do agree that putting it in the ground might be the best thing to do, i.e, cheapest considering all externalities, and local government should just be transparent about what actually happens to your recycling).
My point is that it is entirely plausible that people are paying extra to "recycle" their waste when this has no positive environmental consequence. I was one of the people separating my trash, knowing the trucks would come and mix and all and charge me for this "service". It wasn't "virtue signaling". It was desperation to feel that one wasn't doing so much harm plus a desire not to be seen as the one breaking the rules of the recycling center. I was trying to do the best I could in my circumstances and feel a little better about my actions. I no longer live in Nashville.
So someone pays to haul stuff away on trucks and I'm supposed to believe that they are dumping that stuff in the ocean for some reason. Or shipping it to China and then dumping it in the ocean.
Waste management is handled at the local government level, they tend to "do their own thing". If your local government is doing the right thing, good for them! It could be burnt, landfilled, exported, sorted and sent to a local processor or sorted and then exported.
Sorting is not a binary process either. You can sort to different contamination levels depending on what processors are willing to take.
Not all waste is the same; different kinds of waste are handled differently in different places.
Local conditions make a difference; how much do voters care about the environment really? How much unused space is nearby? Are you way inland or near a port? etc.
But we can zoom out a bit and look at the macro trends.
I thought this article was a good introduction to how things have changed: https://e360.yale.edu/features/piling-up-how-chinas-ban-on-i...
Hopefully in future we do see more local processing, and less "environmental law arbitrage" by waste export.
Taxes are a crucial pillar of even a purely capitalist society, it’s just that they are not easy to implement politically.
To your point, onerously high taxes could largely remove plastics from the waste stream, mooting the need to determine the cost.
I'd like to go even further. Incentives and prizes and grants and whatever-it-takes to find alternatives. eg Bulk pills in plant-based baggies, instead of monthly oversized labeled bottles and caps.
Nudge the culture and expectations. Every little bit would help. Because better is better.
In theory, everyone should be on board. The fiscal conservatives should want it, since negative externalities are a violation of the non-aggression principle, and taxes are the least intrusive way to encourage change, it's basically delegating the specifics of the change to the market. It is consistent with their principles to want it. It seems like the easiest way to potentially get the most people on board.
I also genuinely believe it's the best solution most of the time. The market is ingenious as long as prices accurately reflect costs and benefits.
This is such a dangerous take, and so popular.
If we want to fix climate change we need to get rid of emissions in all sectors (and yes, plastic does create emissions, both in the refinery process and later on landfills and in incinerators). It's not a reasonable strategy to only focus on the large and easy to fix emission sources.
Plastic is a hard to fix sector, and it's unfortunate that developments to decarbonize it have barely started.
Perhaps. But 5% of gazillions is still bazillions. Bazillions of non-biodegradable goods - many single use - adds up. Forever.
Presuming oil follows the same path as coal (i.e., demand collapses and price follows) then plastics will get even cheaper. If we don't find an alternative soon, it might never happen.
"In Europe, it is estimated that between 4–6% of oil and gas is used for producing plastics."
- British Plastics Federation
It varies from country to country, and in the USA natural gas is the primary input instead of oil. Some gas or oil could be consumed by the plant, not actually ending up in the final product.
Having said that, plastic recycling is bullshit. You can't recycle plastic. You can recycle steel and glass. A can can be turned into a new can. But the plastic around meat will never be turned into a new plastic around meat. That's not recycling. Glass is even better as it can be reused. No need for expensive recycling. Plastic can't be recycled so it just needs to be reduced. There are so many easy ways to do this that don't take a genius to figure out. It's just a matter of forcing the supermarkets etc to care about it.
> If we rolled out EVs, and then just burned all the plastic trash (using waste-to-energy plants), we would still be far ahead.
Well yes. But... we're probably not going to just "rolled out EVs" so easily. Every step will most likely seem small, because it will be, because that's the only thing we can realistically, politically do. But that doesn't make it not worth doing.
We may as well say "if we just stopped using electricity we'd be way ahead". Not a good basis for comparison, and even if it were, it's still only like 20%-30% percent of oil use (off the top of my head), so even that won't unilaterally solve all problems.
Why not roll out EVs that easily? The most profitable case company is doing it.... why would anyone go anything else?
I'm sorry, I don't follow. In what way?
> Why not roll out EVs that easily? The most profitable case company is doing it.... why would anyone go anything else?
I'm all in favor of rolling out EVs. I'm in favor of new technical innovations. I'm in favor of better regulations. In short, I'm in favor of doing many things at once to combat one of our biggest emergencies.
However, if we fail to recycle plastic, isn't burying plastic in a landfill, in a way, a form of carbon capture? This is that. much less carbon going into the atmosphere. Again, I think we should avoid that if we can, but IMO, not all pollution is an equally serious problem. Reducing CO2 emissions is clearly the number one priority.
You’re misrepresenting the price substantially – that’s 5 times what Whole Foods charges and while they’re upscale they’re more mainstream than boutique these days.
Found a video of the same machine, you can hear the bottle breaking https://youtu.be/1wwmqmxdlSw?t=27
Quick edit: Looks like Tomra does make machines that keep the bottles intact.
It costs about 50% more, but the quality of the milk is unbelievable and unlike most supermarket milk, we’re paying the producer a sustainable rate that yields them a profit.
Overall in New York, 75% of remaining dairy farmers will be bankrupt in a year or two.
One concerned citizen will point out that glass is heavier and supposedly uses more diesel to move around and requires more trucks to do so. Another concerned citizen will point out that more carbon is used in firing sand into glass. Still another will tell you that the warm water used to clean a used bottle will also produce carbon.
The only answer is to move next to a spring and drink the water with your hands, but some other person will be concerned that you are disrupting the spring’s ecology.
As people become more educated their positions can change. We don't have to settle for one solution forever or give up just because there isn't absolute agreement.
Oil is not evil. It's the Co2 bit that's a problem.
The problem you missed was at least to some extent recycling: we can't reuse the material at all, and while theoretically burning is practical, we still don't separate everything and burning still leaves a byproduct that has to be buried.
I suggest the alternative is going to have to be something that truly disintegrates, i.e. more organic.
If we take plant, turn them to plastic that doesn't regards quickly, then bury them, we're sequestering that co2
Oil for plastics is more akin to the use of any other natural resource in a product or good.
The above commenter indicated 'issues with extraction', well yes, but we have the same issues with extracting everything else. Also, frankly, most oil extraction is not very damaging directly - if we were only using oil for plastics, we'd probably only use the easiest to access oil, like from the Middle East where we pop a straw in the ground and that's it aside from refining.
Burned 'anything' that we put in landfills is actually better than raw garbage as it's considerably reduced and more dense - but it's still landfill.
We should strive for a solution that doesn't require landfill.
And i think we should just do both. I'm able to advocate for less production of plastic and EV use and less driving around for nothing.
Do we live on the same planet?
The biggest challenges with plastics is the proliferation of plastic pollution.
What they're based from isn't the problem, it's chemicals added to the base, such as chlorine compounds, that is the problem.
As a particularly hirsute gentleman, I find it both cleaner and more comfortable. YMMV.
Apparently hn - presumably an educated crowd - can't even agree what the problem is let alone how to fix it.
There are an awful lot of real problems.
I really like this technology. It's not going to fix the world. I like that the source is biological because it won't depend to the same extent on petrochemical supplies. I like that it is designed thoughtfully to have good mechanical properties while being nearly entirely recoverable. It's clever.
I don't understand the hate. It's a silver BB but it's at least cool tech.
I do a lot of 3D printing and I always feel bad every time I have a bad print or design error and need to throw it in the trash. I really hope we can see some of these filaments on the market soon especially considering how popular 3D printing is becoming.
Also it's extremely biodegradable so throwing it out isn't the end of the world.
Don't throw out PLA, it's barely less problematic than other materials.
Yes, PLA can cause some issues in nature as it is acidic (lactic acid) and in quantity throws off pH balance in soil/compost, so many composters don't like to take PLA. OTOH, it is not a difficult problem to solve, and importantly, lactic acid is not inherently toxic in reasonable quantities (muscles generate it) and it shouldn't take too long for microbes to snatch it up once it is small enough.
To put that in contrast, typical plastics consist of toxic components that you do not want in your system, or even in your garden. They are mostly inert while intact, but they tend to slowly decompose and often leach even while in use.
Examples of compositions:
ABS - acrylonitrile (toxic at low doses ), butadiene (Group 1 carcinogen ), styrene (known carcinogen );
PET, PETG: phtalate (Endocrine disruptors )
If you are curious about the tech, sure, it's recyclable. For practical purposes you may as well throw it in the trash ahead of time and avoid contaminating the recycling. Plus if you try to put it in most commercial composting it will not degrade enough to be usable and has to get removed to avoid damaging the compost. So if you happen to not have the right kind of composting facility you can't handle it.
Yeah, it's on paper no worse than other plastics, but you have to have a plan to handle it -- it's not just a thing you can toss in the recycling bin.
PLA is basically useless to me and pretty much all roboticists. I use PETG for almost everything because it works perfectly for all my needs; unfortunately I often need to go through about 2-3 versions of many parts I make and wish there were a better, more efficiently recyclable option that has the same or better properties as PETG.
I have my printer in my bedroom though. Is petg toxi to breathe?
As far as utility goes it's so much sturdier as a material that I don't even comprehend why people use PLA, especially considering they are very similar in price, and it's much easier to work with than ABS since it is not particularly prone to warping. If PLA can realistically be composted though, that's another story, bu I was under the impression 3D print PLA isn't the same as compostable PLA cups.
> I have my printer in my bedroom though. Is petg toxi to breathe?
PETG is not known to be toxic, so it's a much better choice than ABS if you don't have a garage or fully ventilated area. That said, I'm always skeptical and I don't keep my 3D printer in my bedroom.
Point is PETG works, sometimes I need to go to CF-Nylon, I'm just looking for something that's as good mechanically and can be recyclable. I wonder if the plastics in the article would work.
Sample size fallacy right here. Just because it's useless to you doesn't mean it's useless. Plenty are doing fine with PLA.
Plastic like bags that are made from cassava and dissolve in water - https://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/company-makes-cassava-ba...
And also, cellophane is biodegradable too.
As oil consumption falls, plastics will rise in price as there is less raw materials produced by oil refining.
Much like if demand for beef and milk fell, leather could be more expensive.
What price do you put in the extinction of a species? Millions of years of evolution flushed down the toilet so one person can have their disposable water bottle.
Landfill isn’t the worst option, but it’s still better to try to avoid the manufacturing of it to begin with.
There are success stories such as the sharp reduction of CFCs and acid rain contributors, or the reduction in coal pollution once it cost more than alternatives, but we can see the opposite in, for example, the way the oil industry successfully captured a significant fraction of a major American political party and got enough people to believe climate change wasn’t real to avoid a carbon tax for decades we could have used to transform the economy less sharply than will now be needed.
We don't have to continue using endocrine disrupting plastics either. It can't be a blanket ban, we use them in too many places. But they can be phased out.