The article is of course a few years old and much has happened since to further put aside the "Myth" on burning plastics, the emissions, and toxin releases. GR-Technologies has further reduced such "Myth" with the unique patented burner that turns burning plastics (industrial and agricultural) into safe alternative energy. Primarily designed for the Agricultural business and the Green House Industry specifically the advent of the PENN STATE Plastofuel pellets and the Korean pellets from Agri-Waste Plastic proves that this form of disposal be seriously considered in reducing use of fossil fuel, filling of solid waste dumps or exporting to under developed countrys. The American Scientist article further expresses a serious look at the benefits attached to this form of Alternative Energy production.
July-August 1998 Issue of American Scientist
Is Combustion of Plastics Environmentally Desirable?
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – What should be done with the plastics in our garbage? This question mirrors in miniature the complex choices facing policy-makers about what to do with solid wastes in general. Plastic waste does not degrade in landfills, and under the best conditions, only about 50 percent of plastics are actually recycled.
The popular belief is that burning plastic produces too much in the way of toxic emissions to represent a worthwhile alternative. But in the July-August issue of American Scientist magazine, environmental researchers Bruce Piasecki, David Rainey and Kevin Fletcher say recent improvements in air-pollution control technology have made the burning of plastic waste very attractive as a clean, reliable, cost-effective source of energy.
Titled "Is Combustion of Plastics Desirable?," their article examines recent studies in the U.S. and Europe that answer leading environmental concerns about burning plastic waste to produce electricity, steam or heat.
Piasecki is director of the Program in Environmental Management and Policy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and author of a forthcoming textbook, Environmental Management and Business Strategy from John Wiley and Sons. Rainey is director of the Program in Environmental Management and Policy for RPI in Hartford, Conn. He is an editor for Corporate Environmental Strategy, published by Elsevier Science. Fletcher is a managing editor of Corporate Environmental Strategy and served as a coeditor of Piasecki's new textbook.
In 1993, plastics of various sorts accounted for approximately 9 percent (by weight) of all garbage, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that this number will rise to more than 10 percent by the year 2000. Right now, many people see recycling plastics as the best option. But the American Scientist authors say empirical evidence shows that average municipal recycling rates are only about 18 percent across America.
"People do not always participate in recycling programs, and market forces have not yet made plastics recycling attractive enough for the practice to become more widespread than it is," the authors note. "The same trends are seen in Europe, Asia and the nations of the former Soviet Union. Some rare exceptions have been observed in towns in Germany and Japan."
Municipal solid waste has an energy content that is recoverable, making it suitable and valuable for combustion. In fact, the authors say in their article, when garbage is burned in a waste-to-energy facility, there is rarely any need to add supplemental fuels to maintain combustion. Of all types of garbage, plastics release the most energy per unit of weight when burned.
"Compared with burning most carbon-based fuels, such as oil or coal, waste is a clean power source," according to the American Scientist authors. "A modern waste-to-energy facility generates less sulfur and nitrogen oxides – both precursors to acid rain – than do most existing coal- and oil-fired power plants. Even when compared with natural gas, energy from waste looks good, emitting fewer nitrogen oxides and only slightly more sulfur oxides."
Burning plastics is not emission free, and the two main areas of legitimate concern have been the release of chlorine and heavy metals into the environment. But studies in the U.S. and Europe indicate that recently developed air-pollution controls can make the combustion of plastics much less toxic than is popularly believed. That was the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment after reviewing several studies, along with information from tests performed at waste-to-energy facilities in Westchester County, New York, and Marion County, Oregon.
"In spite of these significant findings," write Piasecki, Rainey and Fletcher, "the presumption that burning plastic releases toxic levels of dioxins and chlorines continues to inform many policy debates. One sees this popular misrepresentation of the issues in a host of public-interest campaigns to stop incineration as a policy option, as well as more focused, yet unscientific efforts to rid the world of chlorine."
They say the public should continue to ask pressing questions about the appropriateness and safety of waste-disposal options for plastics. Waste-to-energy and landfill operators should be held to a high standard. Noting that productive relations between citizens and industry can, and do, positively affect the performance of waste-management facilities, the American Scientist authors maintain that the need for sustained public scrutiny and review is clear. Just as performance standards have been aggressively improved in the combustion industry, plastics manufacturers and others are continuing to respond to public concerns by increasing their use of nontoxic additives.
"In the final analysis," the authors say, "communities and consumers will often need to make decisions in this age of environmentalism based on evidence that may seem incomplete – or even contradictory. But the evidence regarding plastics combustion in modern waste-to-energy plants is clear. Waste-to-energy should remain an acceptable, even desirable, option for managing plastic wastes."
American Scientist is an illustrated bimonthly magazine of science and technology published by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.