Science Questions

Should we just burn plastic waste?

Mon, 26th Jan 2015

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Question

Simon White asked:

Should we just burn plastic waste?

Answer

Athene - I think a lot of it ends up in landfill, but I think that doesnít mean Climate changethat's how it has to end up. I think we could do a much better job. There's another aspect that hasnít been mentioned at all that actually, plastics coming from oil can in fact be burned and get energy back out of them as if you're going back to the virgin oil. The trouble with this process is itís very effective if you have a sort of closed environment and very high temperatures. But if you do it at lower temperatures then there are some nasty chemicals that can be released. I think that's why people haven't gone that route.

Chris - Is it worth considering or part of the equation, we regard plastics as bad because they're a use of a fossil fuel, oil, but while they're plastic, they're not turning into carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and therefore, contributing to things like global warming for which we condemn fossil fuels? So, are they therefore less of a burden or less of a bad thing than if you do burn them or if you do turn the oil into petrol?

Athene - I think that's a very complicated question and I certainly don't know the answer. I think it depends on many different things, probably including which polymer it is. There are all these different aspects. Certainly, now oil is cheap again, people may be worrying less about the original material. But of course, we do still have a finite amount of oil and we should be worrying about what weíre doing with it.

 

 

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