I really would recommend to anyone interested in the mechanics of waste, and especially plastic waste, to watch the film, Addicted to Plastic for an eye popping view of the effects our disposal lifestyles are having on the worlds eco systems, especially the oceans. Whilst most of the film, paints a very grim picture of the effects these synthetic materials are having on the planet, there are some positive rays of hope emanating from the film too. The film makers visited several firms around the world, who are either recycling all sorts of plastics together to make reusable items, or are by passing oil, the source of most plastics and turning to the old methods of using plants to make plastics. I say old methods, for plant material was used long before oil, as a source of plastic production, it was only when oil became a far cheaper option that the big producers began using it. Although I have many doubts as to the real potential of these bio plastics to be able to live up to what is claimed for them (See the previous article The Future of Plastic), nonetheless, it's a start and anything must be better.
WasteAway, based in America have a fascinating technique that takes unsorted household waste and converts it into a product called Fluff, which can then be used in a variety of other ways. Fluff is similar in consistency to wood pulp, and can be processed for use as a growing medium for plants and turf, can be gasified to generate steam, can be converted to synthetic fuels such as ethanol, diesel, and gasoline, or can be compressed and extruded to make products such as construction materials. Their aim is to have zero landfill waste. Whilst I agree with the film makers, that using plastic waste as a base for my tomato plants seems a bit far fetched, I feel this process is one of the more exciting schemes I've come across so far, for dealing with such a toxic product.
Another company featured in the film, was the Australian based Plantic Technologies who are using a unique technology based on the corn-starch derived amylose molecule, whose special chemical properties allow for a wide range of applications, including rigid and flexible packaging. The company boast that the end result is a bioplastic that is a completely biodegradable and organic alternative to conventional plastics, based on corn, which is not genetically modified, and which contains approximately 40% renewable content and uses 25% less energy compared to conventional polymers. These plastics biodegrade down easily and when immersed in water, the plastic degrades.
The company's website paints a very convincing picture for the use of such processes. Conventional plastics are derived from oil and gas feedstocks. The problem is that once their useful life has finished, they can take many years to break down. When and if they do decompose, they leave an oil-based residue which can be extremely harmful to water or soil, wildlife and humans. The waste they have created has produced an environmental crisis of global proportions. One of the most successful and promising solutions to this crisis are what is known as 'bioplastics'. These are polymer products made from organic materials, which decompose easily and safely.