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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.
So we are all victims of plastic. Help!
Indeed. I suspect that if one were to pee in a very clean jar, and then vacuum distill out most of the water, then run the rest through a mass spectrometer, you'd get a surprisingly strong indication of all sorts of microplastics..
That’s a cheery thought.
and if one is cremated after death and the combustion gases are analyzed, there are probably measurable amounts of common plastics that are burned out of the individual cells, that won't ever be excreted during one's lifetime.
Then the traditional burials, if a cemetery is excavated a thousand years from now, one could analyze the bones and teeth to pin down the exact time that person once lived. there will be radionuclides that are products of nuclear weapon tests for everyone who died after about 1945 and microplastics in everyone who died after the late 1980s to early 1990s - which means everyone alive now will have both of these substances in detectable amounts in their remains.
This is much like how you can examine teeth in European cemeteries and see a very distinct time line boundary where most skeletons have extensive tooth decay up to the present, and those skeletons prior to the early 1500s do not have tooth decay.
This is the historical boundary when extensive cheap sugar plantations sprang up in the Caribbean and was imported in such volume that even the poorest peasants could afford a high sugar diet. Prior to then, such tooth decay was only seen among the elites.
So all of us will leave behind remains that indicate we lived in the era after nuclear weapons and after the proliferation of plastics, as well as other chemical signatures of high fructose corn syrup and a few modern pharmaceuticals.