Plastics are useful, and problems with plastic waste solvable

Perjantai 3.5.2024 klo 15.54 - Mikko Nikinmaa

There are an incredible number of good sides in plastics, and another vast number of problems. The first big problem is that they are usually produced from oil, and plastics production is a significant source of carbon dioxide. This problem can be overcome quite easily. The oil-based plastics can be replaced by wood-based plastics, and if they are produced using green energy, they are a carbon dioxide sink for as long as the product has not been broken down.

As a second problem with plastics, their stability is usually taken up. Indeed, they can be stable for hundreds of years, and because of this, plastic waste is considered to be a major problem. Plastic waste is found everywhere, strangling fish and birds. But hey, isn’t this a problem with waste collection and treatment, not of plastics themselves. The real problem has been that people throw plastics everywhere. If that were not done, the problem would be much smaller. If plastics were fully recycled, there would be no plastics problem. Presently, much of the plastics cannot be accepted for recycling. However, also this could be changed. If the plastics were melted in pyrolysis, they could be first changed to their original compounds, and thereafter de novo plastics could be produced, enabling full recycling. The toxic compounds could be distilled out. If you are now saying tha this is impossible, I can just answer you that it is not any more difficult than what is currently done in oil refineries.

If most plastic materials were collected and treated before they were broken down to microplastics, and if microplastics use in cosmetics were discontinued, a major source of micro and nanoplastics would unfortunately still remain: tyre wear particles from cars. It is estimated that about 50 % of all microplastic materials in aquatic environment are tyre wear particles. In air, the proportion is 80 %. What is even worse is that the tyre wear particles contain toxic compounds. In addition, any microplastics may not be very harmful themselves as polyethene or such like, but because they are hydrophobic materials and most toxicants are hydrophobic, the microplastics can act as means for toxicants to enter the body. Diminishing tyre wear particles could best be done by increasing use of public transport and decreasing reliance on private cars.

So, most of the problems with plastic waste could be solved with reasonable cost and time. If the governments are really worried about plastic pollution, and not just saying that they are worried, the solutions should be implemented.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: microplastics, tyre wear, wood-based plastics, hydrophobic toxicants