Innovative Disposal: What Do We Do with Plastics?
Plastics do not biodegrade. A plastic bag we use for 10 minutes will persist in the environment for centuries. Many activists argue that the only way to solve the disposal problem is to make and use less plastic. Others see scientific advancement as the answer. They believe new technologies can solve disposal problems without reducing plastic use. Here are some of their ideas:
1. Improved recycling: Recycling pioneers argue that we can and should recycle much more plastic much more efficiently than we do. Some innovators, like Mark Biddle, founder of MBA Polymers, are seeking sustainable, energy-saving processes to recycle plastics into useful new products. Other companies, including Plastic2Oil, are exploring ways to recycle plastic back into petroleum fuels, solving both disposal and energy-production problems.
Visit www.mbapolymers.com and www.plastic2oil.com for more information.
2. Bioplastics: Biodegradable plastics have the potential to solve several problems. Because they are usually plant rather than petroleum based, they can be sustainably produced. They also should biodegrade naturally, solving disposal problems. The bioplastics industry is still new and small, and many concerns exist about the true biodegradability and usefulness of its products; but continued advancements in this field raise many interesting possibilities.
Companies engaged in developing and marketing new bioplastics include NatureWorks, producers of corn-based plastics, and Metabolix, creators of Mirel, a microbial polymer. Visit www.natureworksllc.com and www.metabolix.com to learn more.
3. Decomposers: What if petroleum-based plastics could biodegrade? Some scientists have pursued the development of microorganisms that naturally break down plastics. Several years ago high-school student Daniel Burd isolated plastic-eating microbes as part of a science-fair project. A group of Yale University students recently reported the discovery of a plastic-eating fungi in the Amazon. The potential for these organisms is intriguing.
Each of these ideas has problems and detractors, and none is the magic wand for plastic disposal. But each presents exciting possibilities. Though still in their early stages, biodegradable plastic, recycling reform, and plastic-eating microbes all have the potential to become important parts of our future.