Waste-to-energy incineration is a potential solution to plastic waste problems, but one that always brings up some contentious related issues. Biomass magazine has a feature on the topic in its April issue, headlined "What to do with the Remnants of a Plastic Culture." It begins: "The invention of these useful polymers derived largely from crude oil has been of great use to society but concerns over environmental damages exacted by the proliferation of industrial plastics' production and disposal are not without their merits." The article quotes Penn State University researcher James Garthe, who has studied solid waste management and recycling, noting that he has "been working to develop positive, creative uses for the abundance of waste plastics produced by our convenience-oriented society." Garthe outlines what he calls the Plastofuel concept: "Simply put, his concept was to push waste plastics through a heated die, melting the outer layer and producing plastic nuggets for cofiring." It goes on: "While Garthe doesn't have all of the answers with respect to the dangers of heavy metals and dioxins from combusting plastic, he says, "I'd be less concerned about [industrial incineration of plastic] because of the watchful eyes of the regulators out there looking after public health. Much more concerning is Joe Schmo who's out there burning this stuff in a burning barrel." Interesting point of view, although I don't think the general public shares his trust in public health regulators. Finding communities willing to host waste-to-energy incinerators is difficult -- often the public rallies around recycling instead, even when the economics aren't as favorable.
A look at burning plastic
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