Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Plastic incineration costs?

What do plastics have to do with climate change?

We know that their production requires oil to make the plastic, using over 17 million barrels of oil. The industry that produces the plastic itself fuels its factories with coal. Shipment and distribution? More petroleum. Refrigeration in vending machines and other coolers? More coal-powered electricity combined with the coolant HFCs, greenhouse gases 140 to 11,000 times more heat-trapping than CO2. Disposal requires more shipment to landfills (only 14% of them excape landfills), recycling plants, or in some cases, downcycling where they can be turned into rugs or some such thing (for a fact sheet check and pdf Food and Water Watch). But there is more cost here too.

I've just been reading the EPA's 2007 Executive Summary on the release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A good deal of the material is on consumption or coal, petroleum, and natural gas and their respective uses in different economic sectors (electricity production, transportation, etc.). If you are versed in climate change materials, there are no surprises in the broad findings - the United States has produced, is producing, and will continue to produce a disproportionate quantity of GHGs that affect the climate. The facts contained in the summary round out and fill in our pictures.

One of the most interesting things I found came under "Other significant CO2 trends." The EPA writes, "CO2 emissions from incineration of waste (20.8 Tg CO2 Eq. in 2007) increased by 9.8 Tg CO2 Eq. (90 percent) from 1990 through 2007, as the volume of plastics and other fossil carbon-containing materials in the waste stream grew. [emphasis mine]" We know that from 1990 to 2007 time single-use plastic water bottle use has at least doubled. World Watch reports that from 1997 to 2005 the market's volume doubled to 164 billion liters. PR Inside estimates that the volume will increase to over 174 billion liters in 2011, though public awareness campaigns, bans, and the economic downturn could disrupt this trend. Nonetheless, billions of single-use plastic water bottles in the U.S. have ended up in landfills. [Burned bottle image courtesy of IfEnergy.]

I wonder, then, what proportion of these landfill-bound bottles have been incinerated and been converted into yet more GHGs. I don't know. To some degree it doesn't really matter. The life cycle of the single-use plastic water bottle is so toxic that this just adds some further ugliness to what can only be described as an ecological and social cancer.

1 comment:

  1. Hallo!

    Greatings from Germany! I have made an informationpage about an german recycling- and waste- management- idea in german and english language (kryo- recycling). Pleace spread this infomation to all persons, you know, that many people get knowkedge about this idea and good alternatives to incineration.

    If you and others have some more or new information, pleace send the information to my adress. .

    Here is the link to my informationpage:
    http://sites.google.com/site/kryorecycling

    With best Greatings, Felix Staratschek, Freiligrathstr. 2, D- 42477 Radevormwald

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