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Plastic is for burning!

By Ken Calvert - posted Tuesday, 5 February 2019


Nowadays our industry is all about keeping production in balance, and minimising on by-product waste. However our politically correct society is foundering on trying to recycle even the dregs.

The new technology is fracking, the fastest growing sector in our industrial world is petroleum products with no end in sight, and it is important to balance our outputs of petrol, diesel and everything else made from oil to the various markets that they serve. Keeping "the coal in the hole" and the "oil in the soil" sounds really good, but our world is not quite ready yet to give up on the 80% of petroleum products that get burnt, flying us round the world, transporting our heavy industry and getting us to the Supermarket.

So, if we have to keep producing JP1 and everything else that gets regularly consumed at the same rate as we pump it out of the ground, what do we do with the other 20%, mainly ethylene, that gets turned into plastics? Don't we need to consume it at the same rate to avoid having to dump it in another hole somewhere? What is the point of recycling stuff nobody wants to reuse?

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We are not alone with the problem of municipal solid wastes disposal. Wastes to energy incineration is the choice of an increasing number of our world's cities, especially where land is in short supply. Our world needs plastic in all its many forms and we cannot turn back the clock. I am sure that no single use plastic bags get wasted in our big cities. We line our kitchen rubbish bins with them and tie down all our small stuff into safe clean handling bundles that don't soil our outdoor rubbish bins. It's the 3rd world that does not have the developed infrastructure to process its wastes and simply dumps them that creates the major problems. Lets not lower ourselves to join them, and miss out on a valuable source of energy.

If we want to clean up our oceans of plastic, what we have to do is to startup aid programs to help every poor country to have rubbish bins on every street corner and outside every Starbucks. Why them? Because they don't have cars to drive off in and take their rubbish home.. They need bins that people can put their rubbish in and not let paper and plastic wastes get blown around by the wind to end up in the water somewhere. For the thousands that live in Villages or out on the land, educate them to burn their rubbish and use less dried cow pats to cook their food. O K that is a major re-education problem, but its not an insurmountable problem. Trying to screen plastic back out of the ocean is trying to close the stable door after the horse has bolted! .

As for us in the developed world, our industry is geared to automatic computer controlled processes that require a supply of consistent raw materials to produce a wide range of plastic products. And recycling a variable mix of them all just does not cut it, even with ID numbers on the bottles to help. Moreover burning the 80% of current crude oil production as fuel stockpiles that extra 20% that is a nice clean precursor of new plastics.

And, one might add, who recycles glass into new bottles for the same reasons. Our world is creating mountains of glass! So, with an unstoppable build up of the best, why try and keep recycling the worst? Plastic can burn with more energy output than coal! So lets get rid of that extra 20% as well and avoid all those landfill sites, not to mention the heavy shipping to send stuff back overseas. They don't want it, and we don't want it.

So lets burn it ourselves and not be shown pictures of poor peasant women with babies on their backs scrabbling in our wastes and dying young with dread diseases. And its not the CO2 that these people die from, that's what multiplies the food that they, and we, grow to eat healthy.

If you are worried about the future supply of trace elements for smart phones and spewing deadly dusts and metals out from the smokestacks around us, don't worry. Our industry is far ahead of you. Combustion and concentration in ash, or sintered in glass, is the quickest way to separate out all the infinitesimal amounts of gold on computer terminals and all those things that 90% of us don't even know enough to worry about.

Our green sophisticated world is getting more worried about energy, especially 24/7 back up electricity for our cities, when the winds are not blowing in the right direction. OK leave some of the coal in the hole, but put high temperature high efficiency wastes combustion power plants in the middle of every city to take up the base load, reduce the need for copper in our power lines, and reduce all those heaps of plastic, rubber, wood, paper, old tires, and especially, all the mixed stuff. The cardboard, plastic and bright colours that goes into the eye watering shiny packaging on so much of what we buy today?

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Talk about single use plastic bags and drinking straws, do we want to revert to our old McKenzies and Woolworth stores with long glass partitioned counters and store staff running up and down counting cup hooks, toe and heel plates and nails into little paper bags. We don't buy heel plates now, we throw out all those shoes in the rubbish, to burn! There are so many different kinds of batteries to buy nowadays that we need to read all the information on that fancy packaging to make sure we have got the right product.

They tell us that 90% of the plastic in the sea comes out of ten rivers in Africa and Asia, the 3rd World. O.K. don't tempt them with more of ours as well. Lets keep it all here and stay warm.

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About the Author

Ken Calvert is a retired waste treatments chemist/engineer and has spent most of his working life in the third world, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, and mainly with coffee processing. For every tonne of Coffee beans exported there is 4 tonnes of dirty water and three tonnes of rotten fruit pulp to be disposed of. His website is www.coffee.20m.com.

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