The other day I was throwing out the trash and it caught my attention how much plastic waste is not accepted in my recycle bin. Wrappers, blister packs, bags, saran wrap, plastic containers and more all destined for the landfill. Comparing that to my recycle where all I have is beverage bottles, aluminum cans and a cardboard box, the magnitude of the waste problem hit me over the head. With overall plastics recycling in the US averaging near 7%, it is clear that something must be done to address the remaining 93%. And although reports show some increase in recycle rates, these increases are not keeping up with the massive increase in global plastic consumption. Perhaps it is time to focus on the reality of plastic waste – over 30 million tons of it that went into US landfills in 2009. To paint the picture for you, by the time you read this paragraph, the room you are sitting in would have filled up several times over with landfilled plastic. Every year we landfill over 96 million cubic yards of plastic!!
There is a silver lining to this, with today’s landfill management we are converting our landfilled waste to inexpensive clean energy. In fact, today 35% of all waste is placed in landfills that utilize this methane to energy (methane is produced during biodegradation in a landfill). If this plastic waste had been biodegradable, it would have converted about 10 million tons to clean energy and freed up 70 million cubic yards of landfill space!!
With today’s biodegradable technology, we have the ability to convert 35% of all our plastic waste to an environmental value, with no need for additional infrastructure or legislative programs. That is 5 times the success of recycling!!
After 30 years of recycling and only reaching a 7% recycle rate, I wonder how long it will take to reach the same or higher 35% rate of landfills collecting and converting landfill gasses into clean energy? Maybe its time we look at technologies that focus on solving the bigger part of the problem while also supporting the smaller aspect?
So as I finish, I can’t help but wonder, if in the future the power used to run my laptop will come from biodegradable plastics in the landfill…..