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Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

Posted October 21, 2006 10:00 AM
Pathfinder Tags: Braskem Brazil ethanol sugar

Technology lying dormant in Brazil for two decades is now stirring interest from the plastics industry. Braskem, the country's largest petrochemicals company, has begun investigating ethanol as a potential base for plastics to replace petroleum. Brazil is the top sugar and ethanol exporter in the world, according to this Dow Jones Newswire report. So what's holding up the transition to ethanol? Economics. Some companies considering construction of an ethanol-based plastics and polyester plant in Brazil may have to shell out $200 million. In the debate over using ethanol as a plastics base, which is most likely to take precedence – money or politics?

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Anonymous Poster
#1

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

10/22/2006 5:35 AM

Dear Sir, The world connot afford to keep making plastics because they do not break down like paper, cardboard or metal containers when deposited in lanfill sites. There are some plastics that are bio-degradable, but they have limited uses. I can understand the argument for using ethanol instead of the dwindling petroleum sourses, but the real question is; What do we do with all this plastic waste? Here in Birmingham, UK. We have a plant that shreds the plastic and sends it for refining for use in other products. But these products get thrown away after use, and as no one has yet come up with a solution to refine them further we are still stuck with the problem of poluting the planet with waste plastic. I think that more money and time should go into dealing with this problem before we find ways and means of making more plastic. With regards. Spencer I. Mather.

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Power-User
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#4
In reply to #1

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

10/23/2006 10:50 AM

Re: "because they do not break down like paper, cardboard or metal containers when deposited in lanfill sites"

I am surprised that a contributor to this forum would make this common mistake. In a properly managed landfill, nothing degrades. There have actually been core samples taken from landfills that have uncovered 50-year-old newspapers that are still legible. They are operated specifically to minimize biodegradation by daily covering of waste to eliminate oxygen. If left to degrade, the area would be unstable and therefore unusable after the landfill is full. Managed properly, old landfill sites make good parks or golf courses. Given this, it is much more important to minimize the volume of waste than to replace plastics with biodegradable materials. Often, the plastic option for packaging material takes up less room in the landfill than the paper or cardboard. An even better option is embodies in the three R's - Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

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#6
In reply to #4

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

10/25/2006 2:59 PM

Fellows, Can we please learn to respond without insulting each other? We all make "common mistakes" and have "common misperceptions," that's why we call them "common." Would you really say this in person to someone: "I can't believe they let you in here with such a low IQ!" I see this too often here, and it grates me. Have a little class, please.

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#10
In reply to #6

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

11/09/2006 10:00 AM

I am sorry if the opening to my comment was misinterpreted. My intention was to word it specifically to be an affirmation of the intelligence level of contributors to this forum, especially in scientific fields. This is why I expressed "surprise" that the writer was not aware of the facts concerning landfill operation, something that I would not expect members of the general public with non-scientific backgrounds to know. I definitely would not even think the statement indicated above about anyone, let alone say it to them. I would, on the other hand, tell someone that I am surprised that they aren't aware of a certain scientific fact, as I think that is a compliment indicating my acknowledgement of their general level of intelligence.

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Anonymous Poster
#5
In reply to #1

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

10/23/2006 11:19 AM

What would you replace the plastic with? Polymers have properties which would be very difficult if not impossible to duplicate.

Right now we are not doing too good of a job recycling anything, other materials as well as plastics, but the situation is improving. True, there is a limit to the number of times a plastic can be reused, especially materials such as polyethylene or polypropylene, but what you have left is a hydrocarbon which may be used as a raw material or with good engineering controls, used for energy generation. The real question should be, can we afford to keep wasting valuable petrochemicals needed to produce polymers by burning it?

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Guru
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#11
In reply to #1

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

02/02/2007 4:27 AM

One developing use for recycled mixed plastic [RMP] is the manufacture of sleepers/ties for railway/railroad applications. Substitution of the biodegradable timber sleeper/tie with a long-lasting plastic sleeper/tie is showing significant maintenance savings in many railway/railroad organisations. The shape of the sleeper/tie can be developed to suit local circumstances; for instance, to cope with a need to increase the resistance to sideways movement the sleeper/tie can be moulded/molded to a different shape to increase its lateral resistance, disconnecting the shape of the sleeper/tie from the need to make it on a circular saw at a timber mill. Plastics are, in general, excellent electrical insulators affording advantages in the maintenance of train detection circuits that use the rails. Look up "Duratie", among others, on the 'web for more information.

RMP is of advantage in dock installations also for fenders and major baulks where ships come alongside, showing greater durability and lubricity than timber, also affording reductions in maintenance costs at these points.

The strength of RMP can be increased by adding other components, such as shredded aluminium and shredded car tyre/tire fibre/fiber to add the "graininess" otherwise not present so as to compete with wood in many applications.

RMP could also be used as a fuel by itself, substituting for primary fossil fuels in some cases. Mixed waste incineration to generate power, though not currently attractive in the UK (N.I.M.B.Y.ism) is gaining momentum.

Local authorities in the UK are collecting plastics now as a matter of routine, though little of it is currently directed to RMP manufacture. That situation will improve over time.

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#2

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

10/22/2006 5:15 PM

Money or politics? That question used to be a no brainer until the militant wing of Greenpeace came to prominence. It was economics. Nowadays though, with the greenie weenies spouting off as loudly as they can to anyone within earshot about how we are just minutes away from ecological arrmagedon, it's a crapshoot as to who will be believed by the general public. Personally, I'm curious as to the advantages that ethanol based plastics would have. I am not well versed in the specifics of how plastics are actually created and so couldn't really say which I would personally favor. I will say that the idea of so many "disposable" products being made out of something that doesn't readily break down never has made sense to me. I have difficulty understanding how it can actually be cost effective to manufacture something out of plastic when, although the plastic will suffice for a use or two, it's not suited for long term use, and will have to be disposed of. It seems to me it would make more sense to use a durable material for a durable product. The fact that some things are made from plastic almost guarantees that they will be thrown away. I could, for this reason see some sense in ethanol based plastics if it means that the plastics were more biodegradable. Is that the advantage of ethanol plastic??

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Anonymous Poster
#9
In reply to #2

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

11/09/2006 8:53 AM

Why do you say plastic is not durable? Look under the hood of any car and you will see plastic parts that last for the lifetime of the car. The reason so many things are made from plastic is that the net cost of making them is by far cheaper than metals or other "durable" materials. For many products, plastics can be molded into their final shape and require no additional machining, heat-treating, or other secondary operations. Also, plastics have a huge advantage in specific gravity - and this translates directly into fuel savings for shipping product. Why did the soft-drink makers go to plastic bottles? They save huge amounts in shipping costs (more actual product per truck), the plastic bottle is safer, and there are no costs associated with returning and washing.

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#3

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

10/22/2006 10:06 PM

One helpful thing is that plastic bags exposed to sunlight break down after a while. I am not sure what the end product is, though.

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Participant

Join Date: Nov 2006
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#7

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

11/08/2006 12:42 PM

Its abit more complex than just making plastics from ethanol, fuel ethanol is produced (mostly) from corn which diverts the sugars produced in the fermentaion to an alternative product which need be replaced (lots of starch, corn syrup, etc). In Brazil the sugar source happens to be sugar cane. So now the idea is to divert the ethanol again to produce plastics. What to make...sweeteners, starches, fuel ethanol, or plastics...these are mutually exclusive producst. So there are complicated market questions to be answered as there is a limit on the amount of raw material that can be produced....scarcity of arable land to grow the corn/sugar cane or whatever.

One idea which has not seen much light of day yet (although there are many private and governmental initiatives to do so) is to use biomass byproducts and convert them to raw materials for use as fuel sources and plastics. Currently these byproducts return to the biomass directly or indirectly...e.g. corn stover, corn protein, etc., fed to ruminants as a feed source (fiber and protein)...then returned to the biomass as manure........developing (say) plastics from these sources would add an additional use to their carbon cycle, effectviely reducing the amount of petroleum consumed and not returned........ and because they are biologically recylcable, there would be no net change in the amount of carbon in the cycle..........

As to the idea of replaced petroleum based plastics with plastics from a renewable resource, now that is a good idea. Simply stated, the worlds petroleum supply is finite. Long term sustainability requires optimizing the use of those resources, developing new resources, and developing new technology to reduce the amount of waste produced. Carbon balance is an important consideration, if landfilled for eons, that carbon source which was removed is not replaced. If composted, then the carbon is biologically recycled...........so the bottom line is reduce, reuse, recycle and keep finding new ways to solve old problems..........balance is the key......

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Anonymous Poster
#8

Re: Can We Afford to Keep Making Plastic?

11/08/2006 1:12 PM

One of the comments that caught my eye was the suggestion that we use less plastics and rely more on "durable products." While this may be a viable option for some sectors of the economy, for others it may require more expendature of other resources to accomplish this and maintain the reusable products. Two areas that this is especially true for would be the medical and beauty/skin/hair care industries.

While the idea of reusable syringes, catheters, electrolysis probes and other devices used by all of these fields may seem to be somewhat attractive, these do require both a lot of water and energy to properly sanitize and sterilize them between uses. It also increases water treatment problems as many of the chemicals used in these processes are highly toxic to many organisms and require extra measures to render them harmless to the environment prior to the treated water being released back into the eco-system.

Add to this the fact that mistakes can be made during both the sanitization and sterilization processes, the increase for harm to patients and clients becomes a major concern as well. The primary reasons for going to a much higher dependence on plastic products in these fields was both the cost of sterilization and the significant reduction in the potential for cross infections via reusable medical/cosmetic devices.

Like many other issues involving technology, the benefits have to be considered very carefully prior to making any committments to change an existing methodology that has shown significant reductions in adverse factors such as energy/resource consumption and risks to individuals.

Best regards to all,

Joanne

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