Plastic is everywhere. We use plastic constantly with it being woven into every aspect of human culture and economics as it is a relatively cheap material to purchase. We have been using plastic products since the 1940’s (Jambeck, et al., 2017). Since 1975 production of plastic products has risen a staggering 620%. In 2012 alone approximately 288 million metric tons of plastic product was produced (Jambeck et al., 2017). Unfortunately most of this waste ends up in the worlds oceans via wind, water or direct dumping.
The existence of plastics in the natural environment was first detected in the 1970’s (Jambeck et al., 2017). In large quantities plastics end up in the ocean gyres creating islands of plastic (Cózar et al., 2014). Plastic is a durable product which does not break down easily, when it does breakdown due to weathering, it breaks into millions of smaller pieces. These small plastic pieces can eventually sink to the bottom of the water column, wash up on beaches or be consumed by wildlife such as plankton, fish, marine reptiles and birds (Cózar et al., 2014). The end resulting in the death of many animals.
Human waste products are dealt with in serval ways, including landfills, incineration of waste, or the recycling of materials ( Williams & Williams, 1997). These current methods are still inadequate when dealing with the amount of waste humans create on an annual basis. An alternative to traditional waste management practice is currently underway in the form of pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the conversion of plastic waste into fuel ( Williams & Williams, 1997). The end byproducts produced through this new method are “gasoline and heavy oil” ( Demirbas, 2004). Pyrolysis occurs at high temperatures in an environment free of oxygen, with heat breaking down the plastic molecule which creates smaller molecules such as liquid, gas and solid materials such as paraffins and naphthenes (Demirbas, 2004).
The reuse of plastics and converting them into usable gasoline products may prove to be a benefit to human kind in the long term, but this process alone will not entirely solve the waste plastic epidemic. Further technologies are required in order to continually mitigate the damage already caused in the environment. An analysis of our own consumptive behaviour is additionally required in order to curve this problem.
Cózar, A., Echevarría, F., González-Gordillo, J. I., Irigoien, X., Úbeda, B., Hernández-León S., Palma, Á. T., Navarro, S., García-de-Lomas, J., Ruiz, A., Fernández-de-Puelles, M. L., & Duarte, C. M. (2014). Plastic debris in the open ocean. PNAS, 111(28), 10239-10244.
Retrieved from www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1314705111
Demirbas, A. (2004). Pyrolysis of municipal plastic wastes for recovery of gasoline-range hydrocarbons. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis, 72, 97-102. doi: 10.1016/j.jaap.2004.03.001
Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), 768-771.
Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org
Williams, E. A., & Williams, P. T.(1997). Analysis of products derived from the fast pyrolysis of plastic waste. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis, 40(41), 347-363.
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