Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Plastic is fantastic!

By Ken Calvert - posted Thursday, 6 June 2019

Why is the world up tight on plastics? And when you look further into the literature, its not plastics per se, it's petroleum plastics. And of course that means all the cheaper varieties. Is it plastic or is it petroleum and fossil fuels that is the real problem?

Yes, there is the gyre of buoyant plastic in the middle of the Pacific ocean, but the authorities tell us that 90% of that comes out of 10 rivers in Asia and Africa, That's the 'Third World'. And why do we call it underdeveloped? Because it yet lacks all the systems and facilities that we take for granted, like rubbish collection and streetside bins near fast food and drink outlets. As a household we carefully save all our single use shopping bags to use as bin liners for our own rubbish, our wheelie bin is kept nice and clean, and we know that they will be emptied for us on a regular basis. Does that not happen all around the World??

Our real environmental experts tell us that it releases far more CO2 to cut down a tree and spit it out as paper bags, than it does to turn ethylene gas into plastic ones. Plastic in all its various forms has transformed our world. Yes, much of it they may try to label as 'single use', with the accompanying negative connotation, but who carefully reuses their own paper bags, glass bottles, bent nails and food wastes these days? Indeed, who buys toe and heel plates to save the wear on their shoes. Is there a shoe repair shop left in your town? I can't help feeling that this attack on plastic has a hidden agenda!


Is it the same people who attack fossil fuels and want to label clean green carbon dioxide, the 2nd most life giving element of our atmosphere, as dirty carbon? If so, let's return the attack!

They are quite happy to fly to exotic locations for COP 'conference of the parties' meetings in high flying jet planes, take a taxi instead of waiting for a bus, and stay warm with coal fired electricity in luxurious hotels. It is they who help burn around 80% of these 'terrible' petroleum products that we take out of the ground. Are they not the ones who want to keep "The Coal in the Hole" and the "Oil in the Soil" as their mantras. Ok, why don't we just burn the other 20% of petroleum production made into plastics, increase the CO2 levels a fraction more, and poke them in the eye!

But Heh, we are NOT vindictive people like that! We do love our neighbours. We just don't agree with some of the ways they want to change our World. There are so many good and more efficient reasons for combusting our wastes instead of trying to ship them to China. We should remember that we now live in a super efficient economy. So many of the old laborious and ineffectual jobs have been replaced by machinery. Automated factory machine lines now manufacture so many of our most useful articles and food stuffs at a fraction of their previous costs, so that we can help even the poor people of the third world, to increasingly enjoy their new rising standards of living and equality. We now live in a rapidly and wonderfully equalising rather than a 1st , 2nd or 3rd status world. But there is a catch!

Automated machinery needs consistent raw materials. Our glass industry is geared to clean pure silica sand. It cannot handle all the different colours and shapes and dirty interiors of recycled bottles. So, you will now find growing mountains of glass outside those cities that that are short of land for rubbish dumps, mountains that will last for ever! Why doesn't someone complain about those? It's only the rich that can afford the status of glass, and they too could fit the 'destroy capitalism' agenda? Anyway, we could dump them all at sea, they would not float! And they might give the little fishies and hermit crabs a nice new home ???

I have a much better solution. Let's make all our bottles of plastic! We can colour, shape and strengthen them to our hearts content, they are much cheaper than glass, and then we can burn them all for energy, like petrol? But of course fuel and energy disruption of industry is also part of the formula.

Every major city in our land needs a high efficiency high temperature wastes treatment furnace as part of their infrastructure. They could use it to burn all the rubber tyres, plastic, waste wood, paper, fancy packaging and so much of our throw away stuff. Even toxic stuff that would only require a fly ash and chlorine/sulphur dioxide catchment unit on its chimney to reduce city wastes to a safe small fraction of before, leaving materials that will only frustrate future archaeologists in a thousand years time. Did you know that the easiest way to recover that minute fraction of gold, in our computer and electronics wastes, is to burn them? No, not we ourselves, not some poor woman with a baby strapped to her back, but in a municipal system with a tall chimney.


And why should we do that? Because coupled to that furnace we could have a cost cutting peak load reducing locally governed electric power station: a municipal sewage/waste/storm water recycling treatment plant: and a wonderful way to recycle our energy as well as our wastes. Our future world will need a lot more not less energy, despite what certain political parties say. We need to automate more, not less, and we also need to reduce our wastes.

This little old world keeps 'movin on'. 'Peak Oil', thanks to fracking and horizontal drilling, is now far beyond even our grandchildren's lifetime. Our refineries produce an efficient mix of fossil fuels and chemicals cheaper than ever before. That mix includes a steady output of ethylene and other double bonded raw materials, that are only economically suitable for polymerization and plastics production, and that have to be used or burnt as fast as they are produced. So, let's keep the politics out of trying to screw up this part of our world, and let's follow Trump, and keep reaching for the stars.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

15 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

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

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Ken Calvert

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Ken Calvert
Article Tools
Comment 15 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy