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If people were willing to stop tossing plastic bags and other plastic products in public spaces rather than trash cans or recycling, that would be a moot point. Plastic is necessary. We should be able to figure out ways to stop bag pollution without throwing out the baby.
To modernize that famous line from "The Graduate", the next secret word is "depolymerization". This takes plastics that are mixed, that are contaminated with a bunch of food residue or other stuff, and breaks it back down into hydrocarbon monomers which can then be separated by fractional distillation, into essentially new virgin resins that can be made back into new clean plastics and plastic blends.
There's a bunch of technical articles about it if one google the word along with plastic recycling.
They heat it up to about 850 degrees with supercritical steam. It provides an anerobic environment where the long polymer chains break down into oils, and thus separate easily from the paper or other materials they were laminated with. Such heat also breaks down organic residue, and permits the various components to be separated. Sludge drops to the bottom of the pressure chamber where it can be processed further, and the liquid monomers get distilled and cleanly separated.
The intense heat can be done with focused sunlight to make the supercritical steam. Supercritical fluids have the density of a liquid but the permeability of a gas. This uniformly heats everything so there are no spots that are too cool for the desired chemical decomposition to occur, and not too hot which can further break down the monomers to a point that much greater energy is needed to re-constitute it later.
The separated paper fiber (Starbuck's cups) and fully sterilized and decomposed organic material residues can be easily disposed of, while the monomers from all the used syringes, IV tubes, McDonalds burger clamshells, discarded water bottles, etc. become medium chain hydrocarbon monomers that can then be made into new plastic, making a true circular recycling rather than a downward spiral recycling process like we have today.
Licenses expired because tests and in person refresher courses were not being administered for about a year as the clock kept ticking, and many pilots, air traffic controllers, commercial drivers, etc. were idle in some industries that essentially shut down for months and months, especially in deep blue states.
Worse, instructors and examiners' credentials often had expired, creating a greater shortage of personnel who could quickly get new people certified and renew certifications of old hands alike.
They claim there are more bags and plastic products than they can possibly reuse.
That never should have happened. Someone in charge of each licensing program should have had them declared essential.
De-polymerization would at least remove the stuff from the environment once it has done its job.
Then it doesn't necessarily need to be re-used. It is broken down into essentially a synthetic oil which can then be used either as fuel or something else entirely, as petrochemicals encompass a lot more than just plastics.
But it makes the otherwise not recyclable, essentially recyclable as new virgin material.
That happens in the biosphere anyway with natural stuff. Dung beetles break down excrement. Maggots and scavengers remove the dead critters. Fungi break down dead trees and recycle wood into its molecular components. And so do we when we break down proteins into component amino acids and then convert them into whatever new proteins are needed at the moment.
and photosynthesis provides the energy to effectively reverse the entropy of each downstream energy absorbing reactions, so green plants effectively re-assemble low energy, low ordered components back into high energy, high ordered materials again..
I used to use plastic bags to store things thst could leak. Then I left something in a bag outside. I picked it up and the bag had decomposed into hundreds of shard shaped pieces of icky dry plastic. It took a long time to pick up each piece by hand to throw it away. It doesn’t disappear, it just shreds and gets smaller.
I've had that happen to me, but I didn't pick up the pieces by hand. I used the shop-vac to suck them up, instead. But still less than half of them were contained by vacuuming - the wind had already scattered a lot of it into the next county.
So there is going to be quite a layer of plastic in the geological strata, as distinct as the iridium deposits marking the K-T Boundary some 66 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Which is worse, whole plastic bags or millions of pieces?
Which is worse, whole plastic bags or millions of pieces
Depends on the size of the organisms that encounter it.
Whole plastic bags are a problem for larger animals, as are the big pieces as it first starts to disintegrate. Then millions of pieces becomes a problem for tiny insects and other things near the bottom of the food chain. The plastic accumulates and displaces nutrients, so critters that ingest the stuff eventually end up starving, if they can't excrete all of it.
The smaller bits might be ingested harmlessly by larger critters, but the smaller critters such as dung beetles could end up with problems from the bits of plastic mixed in the larger critters' feces that the beetles and other tiny things deal with.
Same with dead larger critters that have bits of plastic that have ended up in the flesh and organs in microscopic particles. This stuff probably bio-accumulates. They think everyone now has quite a bit of tiny plastic particles circulating in their bloodstream and in their lungs, and once they get inside they tend to stay.