To store all of the world's plastic at depth, we'd need land around the size of one or several large cities.
Love this. The problem with plastic is when it does not go into landfill but ends up in waterways. Tragically, recycling often increases the risk of this as it is sold to dodgy people who just dump it instead of actually recycling it. Incinerating plastic is insane and should be banned.
Maybe the answer to our plastic problem is quite simply... NOT TO HAVE ANY PLASTIC... I would be super curious to understand how much energy is used to 1) produce the plastic bottle, 2) transport the plastic bottle and then 3) store it safely in a landfill. I get the sense that we need to rethink plastic bottles entirely. If the EU is really committed to greening, its time we focus on the greenwashing by retailers and focus on long-term sustainable solutions.
Are decommissioned mines an option? The land has already been gutted and in a roundabout way is putting back what was taken out.
One of the ironies of plastics is that Annex I countries, like the US and UK, get to subtract these nonfuel uses of fossil fuels from the greenhouse gas inventories that they submit every year to the UNFCCC. This doesn't seem like a very good incentive to clean up their acts.
I'll admit that the volumetric amount is less than I thought it would be. The bigger issue seems to be getting it out of the oceans in the first place.
This is a very useful analysis. Plastics are made from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels come from deep underground. It's not crazy to send them back underground when we're done with them.
But as the developing world industrializes, won't that mean more plastic? And more New York City-sized areas to store them ? One after another? At some point we'll have to come up with a better solution than using plastics for everything we currently use them for.
A more comprehensive strategy would be banning plastic where we don't need to use it, develop biodegradable alternatives that can be used for many applications where we currently use plastic, and then properly collect the plastic we still must use due to lack of proper alternatives and store it underground.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is not a plastic but is found in trace amounts in some plastic. There has been concern that food and liquids stored on plastic lined contained could lead to consumption of BPA.
This is not an issue with plastic in landfill.
This was a great mathematical analysis of "alll this plastic". Storing the spent material is a good exercise but I think misses the greater point. The long tail consequence of plastics in the first place already is and will continue to worsen as accumulation in the foodchain is the real consequence.
I’m shocked at the change in density of plastic by elevation. Looking at the Surface vs -45 meters rows, the tables suggests that plastic is more than 3x denser due to just 45 meters of elevation difference.
Air density doesn’t change nearly so quickly with elevation, so I have to assume the compression comes from the trash piled on top of it. But in that case the same density number doesn’t apply uniformly throughout the landfill.
The relevant article is behind a paywall. Can anyone shed some light on how that density is possible?
Curious if numbers are available on our current and projected rates of consumption of plastic globally and the land use that would require in the future. Also would be interested in taking into consideration feasible land to store said plastic, shipping emissions, and how globalization affects which countries are actually dealing with waste and their methods of dealing with it.
Another way to put it would be to say that all the plastics ever produced could fit into Lake Baikal in Russia, with enough room left over to leave the remaining volume of water the fifth largest in the world.
Thanks so very much for this, Hannah! I'm going to blog it, as an addition to my "Plastics are awesome and trash is fine, except food waste" chapter in https://www.losingmyreligions.net/
No, we have places for plastic waiting already. Landfill with plastic should be called land restoration when it is used to restore open cut mines to the original land contours. The volume of such mines hugely exceeds the production of waste in countries where such mines are common. These mines have railway lines to deliver the fill and are already undesirable places to live near so few peole do. Modern landfill with leachate barriers and control of airborne material are very unremarkable places these days. Groundwater is safe. Lomborg covered this issue on pages 206-210 of The Skeptical Environmentalist confirming the main idea of this excellent article.
Why don't we use it as fuel by burning it?
Under pressure in a deep stacked landfill, is heat generated? Enough to melt the plastic and turn it into liquid chemicals? What would be the implications of that, if it is true? Possibilities for collection of liquids and extracting for use?
One thing you may want to consider for future articles is advanced recycling, which is different from the traditional recycling of shredding and melting. There are techniques that can break down the polymer chain at the molecular level into a substance that is very close to the original feedstock used to make the plastic in the first place. This is done with very little degradation, so that means we can recycle some plastics over and over again. Here is a primer from an investment firm that looks for recycling opportunities.
Could most plastics be recycled into use in road construction ,mixing with asphalt or cement for flexibility and support? Plastics came from crude oil refining as did asphalt.