Plastics

Posted by Des Menz on 30 Nov. 2011


WHAT ARE PLASTICS?

Plastics were first invented in 1860 and are generally transformed from hydrocarbons (fossil fuels) – crude oil, natural gas, and coal - to produce long chain molecules called polymers. These polymers can be made into granules, powders, and liquids and are the base materials for plastic products. Since the 1960's the use of plastics has become widespread and their use in packages and containers has risen enormously.

Plastic resins are used in several ways, including extrusion, injection moulding, blow moulding, and rotational moulding, and involves heat and/or pressure to re-form the resin into useful products.

Today, plastic production worldwide exceeds 80 million tonnes per year (Ref. 1).

Plastics can be thought of as congealed energy, because they not only are derived from fossil energy but they also require a fossil energy in their manufacture.

In Australia, the main energy source for most plastics production is natural gas (Ref. 2).


SOME PLASTICS FACTS

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Australians are the second highest producers of waste, per person, in the world. An average of more than 690 kilograms of waste per person goes to landfill each year (the
         United States is the highest waste producer) (Ref. 3).

button cancelEvery year, Australians consume around 1.6 million tonnes of plastic products of which about 376,000 tonnes is used in packaging.

button cancel282,000 tonnes of plastics (about 18%) were recycled in 2008 (Ref. 4). This means that about 1.3 million tonnes ends up in the environment, in landfills and the oceans, each
         year.

button cancelThis represents a "throw-away" rate of about 170 kg of plastics annually for each citizen of Australia.

button cancelIt is estimated that it takes around 700 years for some plastics to begin to decompose in a landfill.
         Some plastics are estimated to last indefinitely.

Ref. 1    www.visyrecycling.com.au
Ref. 2    www.kesab.asn.au
Ref. 3    www.cleanup.org.au/au/LivingGreener/plastic-bag-facts.html
Ref. 4     2009 National Plastics Recycling Survey



PLASTIC PRODUCTS ARE TOTALLY RECYCLABLE, SO WHY DO MOST OF THEM END UP IN LANDFILLS, AND WORSE IN THE OCEANS?

WHY AREN'T ALL PLASTICS BEING DIVERTED FROM LANDFILLS?

It seems the problem comes down to COST! But what cost to the environment? What cost to groundwater systems? What cost to your health? What cost to the ocean environment and all its creatures?

PLASTICS are a part of our everyday lives, but most that come into the household have a once-off use. Their destination is then landfill. A huge amount of fossil fuel is used in the manufacture of plastics. 


THE GREAT PLASTICS GARBAGE TRAP

Wikipedia has a very illuminating story on plastics in the oceans of the world.

Remember the YouTube video. The same insurmountable problem that occurs in the oceans also happens on land. Recall that 18% of plastics are recycled in Australia. What happens to the remaining 82%? It is conceivable that about 150 kg of plastics per person are dumped to landfill each year (recall the "throw-away" rate of 170kg/person).

Plastics can be highly toxic in landfills, and that is why greater measures need to be introduced to limit this pollution. 

The Plastics & Chemical Industries Association says that plastics can be used as an alternative fuel and energy source, with a calorific value at least equal to coal and with lower Carbon Dioxide emissions.

So, what's happening?


Discover more about the various types of plastics and what the codes mean —>

The Plastics Identification Code


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