Waste not . . .

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The plastics industry is the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States.  In fact, the US hosts half of the world’s top fifty plastics manufacturing companies.  Sales in 2014 were over $961 billion, with the US holding a sizeable trade surplus in plastics.  Demand continues to rise, with consumption between 2011 and 2012 going up 5.7 percent. 


Since its basic component is mineral oil, plastic is considered a petrochemical.  Some of the largest plastics manufacturers are household names in the US, including Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemicals, and Chevron Phillips. 


In developed countries like the US, a third of plastics goes into packaging.  Another third is used in buildings, such as pipes, plumbing, and vinyl siding.  Other uses include toys, furniture, cars, and medical equipment, among other things.


Thanks to the fracking boom, the US is now one of the cheapest places in the world to manufacture plastics.  The chemical industry plans to spend $185 billion in the next few years to expand its capacity.  Four new plastics plants were slated to begin operations in the US in 2017.


At the same time, the US’ main export to China is—or has been—trash, including plastic trash.  It is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Since the 1980’s China has been the world’s largest importer of waste.  By 2012 56% of global exported plastic waste ended up in China, but lack of oversight led to major environmental and health problems.  Also, China’s middle class has started discarding enough waste so that the Chinese no longer need imported garbage. So, as of January 1, 2018, China has imposed a ban on imported waste.


According to the New York Times of January 11, 2018, “Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling.”  According to the article, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Britain, and Hong Kong have reported backups in their waste.  Steve Frank, of Pioneer Recycling in Oregon is looking to export to Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Malaysia.  In Britain, Jacqueline O’Donovan of O’Donovan Waste Disposal also exports and reports huge bottlenecks.  China’s ban covers 24 kinds of solid waste and sets new limits on impurities.  China notified the WTO last year it would ban some imports because of contaminants, including hazardous materials.


Germany leads the world in recycling, at 70%.  Americans generate 4.4 pounds per person per day of trash, leading the world in waste generation, but Americans only recycle 34% of waste and only 9.5% of plastic.  Fifteen percent is burned for electricity and/or heat.  About one-third is exported, and until the ban began, half of that went to China.  The remainder goes to landfill.  It is estimated that it takes 500 years for plastic to break down.  As it does, it leaches toxic components into the ground.  Many US landfills are old and nearing capacity.


China has the highest carbon emissions in the world, as of 2011, but it also has the largest population.  The United States (third in population), Russia and India (second in population) are the next largest carbon emitters.  Emissions have grown faster than population since 1950.  Since 2000, emissions have grown twice as fast as population.


China, which has a longstanding problem with pollution, is making comprehensive efforts to improve its air and water quality.  Beijing has started promoting green technology, including waste-to-energy incineration.  With WTE, China’s stated priority is trash disposal rather than energy production.


Waste-to-energy (WTE) is a process by which trash is burned to generate electricity, steam, or both.  According to Wikipedia, the first waste incinerator was built in the United Kingdom in 1874.  The first in the US came on line in 1885 on Governor’s Island, New York.  Burning reduces original waste volume by 90-95%. The plants produce electric efficiencies of 14-28%.  Or, water is boiled to power steam generators.  Co-generation can increase efficiency to 80%.


WTE must meet strict emission requirements for nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), heavy metals and dioxins, based on worldwide emissions standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an inter-governmental economic organization with 35 member countries, founded in 1961.


The plants may emit low levels of particulates, heavy metals, trace dioxin and acid gas.  There’s also toxic fly ash (which requires hazardous waste disposal installation) and incinerator bottom ash, which must be reused properly.  Lime scrubbers reduce acid gas.  Electrostatic precipitators, fabric filters, reactors and catalysts are also used.  In WTE, filters capture mercury and lead. However, even controls can’t eliminate all the dioxin, according to some claimants.


Proponents say the plants emit the same amount of nitrous oxide as coal-fired plants and have the same requirements, but WTE plants emit fewer particulates than coal.


Some European countries burn half of their waste.  Cost for the facilities can be prohibitive, at up to $1 billion.  There are 87 operational WTE facilities in the US, 431 in Europe, and 330-439 in China, depending on the internet source.* Japan is the biggest user of WTE in the world.  It burns 40 million tons of municipal solid waste annually.


Because Germans generate so little waste, the country’s WTE plants lack enough trash to supply its electricity generators.  It imports trash from the UK, Italy, and Switzerland.  Sweden imports trash, too.


The largest waste-to-energy plant in the world is currently under construction in Shenzhen, China, but protesters have succeeded in getting a delay in the project.  Babcock and Wilcox Voland of Denmark has the $40 million contract to design a 168 megawatt boiler that will consume 5600 tons/day of trash.  The roof is to be covered with solar panels.  It is expected to recover 95% of water and 90% of metals, with slag recycled as gravel.  Flue gas is expected to be 95-99% clean.  An even larger WTE plant is being planned in Dubai, capital of the United Arab Emirates, with construction scheduled to begin later in 2018.  It is projected to produce 185 megawatts.


 The EPA says the US sent 33.66 million tons of waste for conversion to energy in 2013.  Fifty percent of facilities are privately owned, with Covanta Energy and Wheelabrator Labs the largest.  Most produce electricity only, and 25% produce electricity and stream.  A handful produce only steam.  Twelve states have operating WTE plants.  Florida has the most, at twelve, then New York (10), Massachusetts (7), Pennsylvania and Connecticut (6 each), Virginia and Delaware (5 each).  California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine have three.


The largest WTE facilities in the US produce over 90 megawatts of electricity and consume around 3000 tons/day of waste.  They each serve around one million people. 


In the US, the first WTE plant in 20 years opened in Florida in 2015.  It consumes 3000 tons/day of waste and cost $670 million.  The Palm Beach Renewable Energy Facility in West Palm Beach, Florida is publicly owned by the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach, County and operated by Babcock and Wilcox, an international firm out of Denmark.  It is a mass burn facility and produces 95 megawatts. Advocates stress the idea that waste is a resource.


However, the new plant is not getting the loads it expected.  The county already had a WTE plant, in operation since 1989.  There was a fear that landfill would reach capacity around 2022-2023, so the new plant received little public resistance.  There are substantial controls on emissions.  Emission requirements allow for 110 pounds of mercury/year.  The price of the electricity is competitive.  They test for the toxicity of the ash.    


An argument against incinerators is that they compete with recycling. Recycling has increased three-fold over the 1980s.  Still, it’s cheaper to make new paper than to recycle, and China’s new ban on trash imports includes mixed paper.


 There is a $1 billion facility planned for Baltimore, but it is meeting with public resistance.  Opponents object to emissions so close to a school and blame WTE facilities in Detroit and Harrisburg, PA for those cities’ bankruptcies.  However, WTE industry representatives claim that Harrisburg continued to refinance its facility and to pull cash out for the general fund.  The cost went from $15 to $240 million.  The plant sold for $130 million.


The trajectory of plastics from production to disposal presents a growing problem worldwide, including in the oceans, where huge “gyres,” of floating debris have formed in five separate locations.  The best known is the “Great Pacific Garbage Dump,” which some say is at least the size of Texas.  If there were ever an industry looking for jobs, the pollution control industry would be one of them.




* A problem with internet research is that data is often old, sometimes without posted dates. Some is promotional (so possibly biased), often superficial, and hard to verity. 


Ward Tipton Added May 23, 2018 - 2:23am
WTE or Waste To Energy does not only rely on incineration. In fact, I am personally working with the Philippine Government and others to introduce a unique process to convert the waste to marketable products without the need for incineration in accordance with Philippine law. We can turn the waste into marketable goods with zero residual. If I can get it running, I would happily take all of the garbage in the US even if it means setting up business there again. Mind you, there would not be enough residual waste to build another Manhattan ... kudos (and ten pointless points) if you understand! 
Recycling is not always the most viable solution outside of some areas in paper and metal recycling, but reutilization is overlooked on a regular basis. 
Thomas Napers Added May 23, 2018 - 4:56am
This articles tells me one thing and that’s the wastefulness of recycling and WTE programs.  If the environment is the concern, we should be building more landfills as that is the safest, cleanest and most cost effective way to dispose of our trash. 
opher goodwin Added May 23, 2018 - 5:06am
Katharine - a great article that illustrates the enormity of the problem. We are presently devouring resources at ever increasing rates and drowning in our own polluted mess.
Travelling the world has shown to me first-hand the extent of the problem. Our oceans are full of junk, In Peru rubbish trucks were queuing up to dump waste on to the beach, raw sewage formed an evil brown slick in South Africa, rainforests were being devoured in Vietnam, Borneo, Brazil, Tasmania and Australia. Landfills, toxic waste, smog, extinctions and are plagues.
It seems to me that we humans are trashing the place.
The problem is obvious - there are too many of us! We need to drastically reduce our world population and put an end to this ridiculous mantra of - Growth!! Growth!! Growth!! 
wsucram15 Added May 23, 2018 - 9:01am
Well here in MD its a law now and everyone has a recycling day, they are supposed to have containers for their recycling. I know we do it here and the kids do it at my house.  It just seems to me that glass and plastic do  not break down and we use quite a bit of it.  Cans also along with paper. So we fill a large container inside every week with everything we can to recycle.
Also we researched  that you can compost parts of a wet disposable baby diaper to grow flowers and plants, not vegetation.  Just a thought...
We dont have to separate our recycling out yet, just put it in a recycling can and they pick it up on our given days once a week.  As long as its not in a plastic bag, they will take it and they have specific days for larger items to be broken down and reused.  https://www.washingtonian.com/2012/06/15/sorting-it-all-out/
All the recycling goes to a plant in Elkridge, MD and there is also one in Baltimore City and Baltimore County  but are used for specific things. Baltimore scrapped the plan you mentioned in 2016 due to citizen concerns and from the looks of things here..IDK why.   But they are putting something like what you are talking about in Jessup, MD http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-biogas-plant-jessup-20180214-story.html
That was February, you might find this article particularly interesting this was posted on our Government website this month..http://news.maryland.gov/mea/2018/05/14/bts-bioenergy-awarded-500000-dollar-combined-heat-and-power-grant/
looks like its moving forward.
Dino Manalis Added May 23, 2018 - 9:21am
 Plastic is strong and useful, but it should be biodegradable.
Bill H. Added May 23, 2018 - 10:47am
I used to be an avid surf fisherman. My catch ratio over the years went from 5 fish per each bag caught to just the opposite. I found this to be true on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and in the Galveston Texas area.
Dave Volek Added May 23, 2018 - 11:20am
Nice article. It shows there are pros and cons to all possible alternatives. We need a process to evaluate these alternatives without any bias.
It seems you know nothing about the economics of landfills. We have come a long way from digging a hole in the wilderness and sending trucks to that hole. 
Katharine Otto Added May 23, 2018 - 12:07pm
Ward Tipton,
I'm interested in learning more about your project.  I tend to re-purpose things until there's nothing left and am always looking for new ideas.  
Maybe the focus should be waste-to-resource.  "One person's trash is another's treasure," and all that.  It gripes me, and probably other people, too, that there's no easy way to hand off things that are no longer useful to me but might be to someone else, like scrap lumber or old nails.
Katharine Otto Added May 23, 2018 - 12:09pm
Landfills are problematic, and we are running out of land area.  Would you want a landfill near your home?  Neither do other people.
Katharine Otto Added May 23, 2018 - 12:14pm
I knew you would understand.  If over-population is your concern, rest assured that we are poisoning the planet fast enough to decimate it.  An alternative would be to re-generate the spirit of resourcefulness, and I believe it's happening in the younger generations. 
I didn't mention in the article that plastic breakdown products are affecting fertility rates through the creation of molecules that mimic estrogen, in animals and humans.  
Katharine Otto Added May 23, 2018 - 12:19pm
Thanks for that bit of information and the current status of the Baltimore WTE plant.  It seems like proper sorting requires some pretty sophisticated education and trouble.  I heard a bit on NPR about how something like peanut butter jars must be cleaned, because contaminants can ruin a whole batch of recyclables.  Then there are all the different grades of plastic, and on and on.  
I can see why people get frustrated, but at least awareness is growing.  The China ban could have a beneficial effect on the way Americans deal with waste.
Katharine Otto Added May 23, 2018 - 12:21pm
There are biodegradable plastics.  Wikipedia also lists a variety of microorganisms that break it down.
Katharine Otto Added May 23, 2018 - 12:24pm
Bill H.,
I've noticed much more trash in the rivers, too.  Also, litter in the streets, and a disappearance of trash cans.  When I lived north of Atlanta, there was a huge recycling center in the local farmer's market parking lot.  A series of large truck-type containers were designated for different kinds of recyclables.  Why isn't this more common?
Katharine Otto Added May 23, 2018 - 12:27pm
I believe the process starts with interaction like this, with people reporting from their own locations, areas of expertise, and observations.  For instance, I've learned a lot from reading the above comments.
Thanks to everyone for reading and for your contributions.
Even A Broken Clock Added May 23, 2018 - 1:10pm
Katharine - WTE is certainly one piece of the puzzle. But NIMBY tends to overwhelm any plans that get put out there to implement.
Strictly from a personal perspective, this Monday was our day of the week for recycling. We set out four separate bags for recycling, and one bag of trash. Now what happens to the recycling after it leaves us, that's another matter altogether. But it does take a personal commitment to do the recycling and that's a barrier for many folks. That, and it takes space which in an apartment in a large city is at a premium. In our house? Not so much.
Dave Volek Added May 23, 2018 - 1:51pm
The interactions are very important to get these social programs implemented properly. Ideas need to be exchanged. When idealogies are competing against each other, we probably won't find the best solution.
NIMBY is a big problem. One of the better solutions came from the City of Edmonton. The city wanted to extend is Light-Rail transit line down a certain corridor. The residents near the proposed line protested successfully to prevent the construction. As houses came up for sale, the city bought them up and rented them out--often to semi-dysfunctional people. The quality of the neighborhood deteriorated. So too did the political force to prevent the extension of transit line. Within a decade, the city just moved ahead with its plans without much opposition.
I wouldn't be surprised the city sold those houses for a good profit as being close to an LRT line is great for citizens to get around a city.
On a related matter in southern Alberta, there is a directive to build a WTE plant that would take in all plastic from Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, and probably another 100 towns and villages. The logistical engineers deemed that the village of Lomond would be the best place to set up this facility. Lomond has about 100 people and serves a farming community of another 200. These people protested vehemently, and it seems the directive has stopped.
I think my region should consider this project.   
George N Romey Added May 23, 2018 - 5:40pm
Good article Katharine. Unfortunately humans have become huge waste pots as we’ve “advanced.” Sadly I don’t see this trend reversing.
opher goodwin Added May 23, 2018 - 6:17pm
Katharine - while we are busy laying down the foundation for our own demise we are sadly taking a huge number of other species with us. We've already eradicated most of the megafauna. 
We need to wake up and do something before it's too late.
Number reduction is the only real solution.
Nobody's Sweetheart Added May 23, 2018 - 8:28pm
Great post, Katherine. I learned something new! I lived in Germany for a few years, and they are indeed avid and enthusiastic recyclers. The average grabasstic, dumbass American is a crude, undisciplined packwolf compared to the typical Kraut, lol.
wsucram15 Added May 23, 2018 - 10:29pm
Also..everyone, stop using those grocery store plastic bags.   There was a display during the Art Fest a couple of years back about a huge turtle that was found in the chesapeake bay area. He was trapped in those plastic bags that people had just discarded. He lost a fin because of that and is housed at our aquarium here.   Those bags do a lot of damage to birds, sea life and other animals.  Not to mention they are non-recyclable for MOST programs.  They require very expensive equipment to recycle them.  Ask your grocer to carry recycled bags , paper, boxes or carry your own recycled bags.   Other wise its just more crap for the landfills that will never breakdown.
Flying Junior Added May 26, 2018 - 9:30pm
Thank you for an informative article. 
Some years ago, I watched a program on UCTV about a research vessel, launched from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, equipped with smaller crafts,  that was sent out into the Northern Pacific Ocean to locate the Pacific Gyre.  A couple of researchers went out into the middle of the Gyre in a skiff.  They found it alright.  But it's not like you might have imagined it.
All of my life I have seen nylon marine rope and other non-biodegradable plastics wash up on the shore, usually entangled in kelp.  Blue and white painters and ropes that anchor lobster traps.  Broken pieces from boats and fishing nets.  Every other kind of plastic that washes down through our gutters and storm drains and finds its way to the shore.  You beachcombers know exactly what I am talking about.  Bic lighters, ball-point pens, plastic bottles, bags, toys and food packaging.
The Gyre is composed mostly of small particles.  They are visible from a canoe or skiff.  But they are only a little bit larger than microscopic.  There are no beach toys, hairbrushes or packages.  Every piece is broken down to a particulate.  These are the types of particles that are getting into edible fish and who knows what other life forms.  The plastic in the tissues of the marine life is toxic to the sea creatures and fouls the precious ocean food sources so essential to humans.
A. Jones Added May 27, 2018 - 1:59am
Landfills are problematic, and we are running out of land area.
Completely untrue. In fact, we use less land area for landfills now than previously because trash is compacted more efficiently. Landfills are also safer than previously because of precautions taken against leakage (known as "leachate"). See this link (among many) for some information in landfills in the U.S.:
". . . rumors that the U.S. is running out of landfill space are a myth, according to industry leaders.
Just a few decades ago, almost every town had its own dump, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there are more than 10,000 old municipal landfills. All that changed in the 1970s, when the federal government began requiring landfills to install lining systems to prevent leachate from leaking outside the landfill. Today, while the number of landfills has shrunk from more than 7,600 in the mid-1980s to roughly 1,900 as of 2013, operating landfills are much larger and more efficient than their predecessors.
'Despite the reduction in the number of landfills in the United States following the enactment of the RCRA Subtitle D regulations, there has been an increase in overall disposal capacity, as larger regional landfills have opened in many locations that receive waste from a variety of locations,' . . . 'Many states have more than 20 years of permitted landfill capacity available. Modern landfills are generally highly engineering disposal facilities, with leachate controls and landfill gas recovery systems, that bear little resemblance to the ‘dumps’ of generations past.'

Waste in today’s landfills is also more densely compacted, and some landfills add liquids that hasten the decomposition process and add more time to the life of the landfill."
* * *
For an entertaining look at the myths of trash disposal and recycling, see this famous episode of Penn & Teller's show from several years back, each episode of which focused on debunking commonly held ideas. Aptly enough, their show was titled "Bullshit!". The episode on recycling (February 2005) is at this link.
Cynthia Rouse Added May 27, 2018 - 7:53am
See the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' in the Pacific, a floating junkyard the size of Texas. The Oceans have been severely polluted
Stone-Eater Added May 27, 2018 - 9:12am
Well.....can you tell me which inventions or products the US made that were really useful for mankind ? I mean, except weapons (not as being useful, but as products...LOL) ?
Don Allen Added May 27, 2018 - 12:09pm
Good article.
Pollution by plastic is one of the most troublesome risks the world faces.  The only good use I've heard, beyond recycling, is that it has some value to condition clay-type soils, making them bio-productive. 
Overall, it is a massive problem, one which can be scientifically studied, and one for which consensus resolutions can be introduced.  Let us hope politicians will stay away until science has had it say.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 2:08pm
I admire your commitment.  You're right that it's too much trouble for some people, and many are confused about what's recyclable.  Different communities or different companies have different rules.  In Savannah, recycling containers have been scattered all over, for instance one took newspapers only, another just took aluminum cans, etc.  And they tend to disappear and re-appear in different locations.  Now the city has curbside recycling, but the county doesn't.  
In general terms, I believe cleanliness and civic responsibility are self-respect issues, but that's a future topic or more.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 2:17pm
Do you think there's anyone who believes in more trash?  I don't see the garbage issue as one of competing ideologies.  I do see that many people don't know how to deal with it.  In the book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, the author says marketers had to teach Americans to become wasteful.  We were coming out of the Depression and trained to be resourceful, to save, and to make do.  The consumerist agenda recognized this would not "grow the economy," so concepts like "planned obsolescence" and throw-away packaging were born.  
I believe waking people up with information about what is happening and how other cultures and communities are dealing with it is grist for the mill and the foundation for more innovation.
Bill Kamps Added May 27, 2018 - 2:17pm
Stone, depends what you mean as "useful".  My guess is that you find the air plane  useful, to get back and forth to Europe, though you will probably say it isnt necessary and we should all be living in mud huts.  Not my preference.
I'm optimistic.  I remember a time when pollution wasnt even thought about.  When cars put out a 100 times more pollution than they do today, when coal electric plants put out a 100 times more pollution than today, when rivers and lakes where people now fish, had no fish. 
This does not mean the  fight is won, but there was a time when there was no fight.  No EPA, no regulations of ANY kind. 
Often times we are given conflicting information about which is worse, paper or plastic? at the grocery.  Yes, best of all we bring our own bags and groceries that charge for bags at least are a push in the right direction.  But is making paper worse than plastic?  depends.  Making paper can be a very pollution intensive activity, so depends where it is made, and how.  Is the plastic recycled? is the paper recycled?   Often times we send computers to a recycling company only to learn later it is going into a land fill in China.  So we often dont have enough information to make informed choices, or the information is difficult  to get.
McDonalds and other fast food places used to distribute food in plastic, now it is in paper cartons.  Better but not perfect.
I am optimistic because some progress has been made and at least we are discussing what we should be doing.  Decades ago, we werent even aware we were polluting.  Big difference.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 2:19pm
Thanks for reading and for your comment.  I don't believe in predicting futures I don't want.  I'm happy to predict a jubilee, but I also predict we'll learn to see waste as a valuable resource for something-or-other.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 2:25pm
Which populations should we kill off in order to get the human numbers down?  The developed countries are reproducing less.  Japan is worried that people are dying faster than infants are being born.  US and others also have a declining birth rate.  
I prefer elephants to humans too, especially lately, but the "natural selection " elements in play now, such as war, famine, environmental toxins, and disease, do not seem like civilized ways to reduce population.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 2:29pm
Michael B.,
Thanks for the affirmation.  My long-ago trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland impressed me in other ways, too.  The places were clean, the trains ran on time, and outdoor exercise was the norm.  Lots of hiking and communing with nature.
Germany has come back from a lot of devastation and possibly deserves more credit than people give it.  From what you say, they could teach us a think or two about resourcefulness.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 2:36pm
I have a collection of reusable shopping bags and have made some myself.  I've often thought that someone who likes to sew could make designer shopping bags out of upholstery fabric remnants.  We just need to promote the idea into fad status, and the cheap plastic junk will be crowded out of the market.  
I keep my reusable bag collection in the trunk of my car.  At the grocery store, I simply put my wallet in one of them, fill it with groceries, then dump the entire bag on the check-out counter, grabbing the wallet before the cashier can scan it.  They refill the bag after the food has been scanned.  The practice keeps me from over-buying or from buying boxed and bottled junk food, so it has other advantages, too.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 2:43pm
Thanks for the information.  I would add that the gyres only reveal the plastic that floats.  A lot of ocean plastic and other junk sinks to the bottom.  Maybe that's why ocean levels are rising (just kidding, sort of).  And you're right that salt water, UV light, and ocean turbulence break plastic down into small particles that are eaten by marine life and get into the food chain.  One of the breakdown products mimics estrogen so causes hormonal changes of undetermined and unpredictable consequences.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 3:05pm
A. Jones,
I checked out your link about recycling.  I agree it's a lot of trouble and in many cases not worth the hassle.  The show itself is insulting and short on facts.  About landfill gas utilization, I wrote a separate article about that on my WordPress site.  Maybe I'll post it here.
My preference is reduced consumption.  I generate very little trash, compost food scraps, avoid packaged and processed food, do recycle metal, and throw away junk mail in post office recycling containers.  I won't argue about landfill space, because I don't know, but probably no one else knows, either.  I do know that they built a housing development atop an old dump site near me but had to evacuate the homes because of radon gas.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 3:13pm
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is becoming better known, and I'm thrilled that people care.  It is the largest of five gyres in the oceans, and all are getting larger by the day.  
It astounds me that the plastics industry is so proud of its "growth," as though cancer is to be celebrated.  I hope that growing awareness of the other end of the production-consumption-disposal chain will force the industry to take more responsibility for its contribution to the problem.
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 3:23pm
Well, we have McDonalds.  Actually, I've been researching the industrial revolution, and most world-changing inventions came from Britain (much as I hate to admit it).  Also, it's a matter of opinion whether any invention really improved mankind's lot.  
The steam engine was invented by Englishman Thomas Newcomen, but American Robert Fulton  invented the first successful steamboat.  The first telegraph by Brits William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone, but the telephone by American Alexander Bell.  Of course there was the incandescent electric light bulb by American Thomas Edison, but that has been outlawed by Congress.  Edison (or his assistants) also invented the phonograph and his assistant invented the first chicken egg incubator.  
Katharine Otto Added May 27, 2018 - 3:32pm
Don Allen,
It's impossible to know the long term consequences of the plastics deluge.  People don't realize that the plastics industry is an offshoot of the fossil fuels industry that has tipped the planet so off-balance.  That they have become so powerful in such a short time boggles my mind.  
Science aligned with government created the problem, so I'm skeptical that either can solve it, unless they can find a way to make it profitable or control and patent it.
A. Jones Added May 27, 2018 - 4:11pm
I agree it's a lot of trouble and in many cases not worth the hassle. 
That wasn't the gist of the Penn & Teller episode. The gist was that it's a net loss of time, labor, and materials to an economy as a whole to recycle; not that it's merely a "hassle". Brushing and flossing one's teeth everyday might be called a "hassle" but it can be shown to be objectively necessary for teeth maintenance; separating garbage by material and recycling it is not just a hassle, but also — as the Penn & Teller show is titled — bullshit.
The show itself is insulting and short on facts. 
Alas, I just proved to everyone that you are the one short on facts — when you recycled the myth about running out of land area for landfill. That's just plain wrong and you did no homework on the issue. Since you thoughtlessly repeated a meme in the hopes that readers would just accept it and in their turn, thoughtlessly repeat it to others, that makes your post insulting, as well as short on facts.
Katharine Otto Added May 29, 2018 - 11:01pm
A. Jones,
You have proved nothing.  The reason Dade County in Miami built its second WTE plant is it was afraid of running out of landfill by the early 2020s.  The UK is also afraid of running out of landfill in the early 2020s.  I have read of multiple other instances of people in the waste management business concerned about the life expectancy of their landfill sites.  
I'm not impressed with your source of information when, in fact, I have probably done more homework than they did, and for many more years.
Katharine Otto Added May 30, 2018 - 11:35am
A. Jones,
By the way, it occurs to me that my article wasn't about either recycling or landfill.  It was about waste-to-energy generation, and references to recycling and landfill were incidental and based primarily on what other people claim or do.
I'm not a big recycler, myself, partly because I'm not much of a consumer.  I recycle metal and have a post office box from which junk mail goes directly into their recycling bins.  Otherwise, I agree that re-cycling probably ends up using more energy than it saves, especially when the materials are shipped overseas.  The transportation costs alone probably negate the advantages.  However it has been a multi-billion dollar industry in China before now, so somebody benefits.
A. Jones Added May 31, 2018 - 10:56pm
You have proved nothing.
Yes, I have. You've simply ignored the proof (psychologically, it's called denial).
Here's one proof:
Regional Landfill Capacity Problems Do Not Equate to a National Shortage
"Across the country, landfills are closing and local leaders protest the opening of new facilities . . . But rumors that the U.S. is running out of landfill space are a myth, according to industry leaders.
Just a few decades ago, almost every town had its own dump, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates there are more than 10,000 old municipal landfills . . . Today, while the number of landfills has shrunk from more than 7,600 in the mid-1980s to roughly 1,900 as of 2013, operating landfills are much larger and more efficient than their predecessors.
At the national level, the EPA reported that landfill capacity is 'sufficient for our current disposal practices,' but there are some regions that are becoming more limited in their disposal options.
Rather than landfill waste locally, some areas of the country are exporting their garbage to other cities, counties, and even states. For example, following the closure of Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, New York City began sending some of its trash to landfills in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and elsewhere.
Bryan Staley, PhD, PE, president and chief executive officer of the Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF), says available landfill capacity is very specific to locale and region. Many smaller landfills are facing capacity issuers, but larger regional landfills have plenty of space, he says.
Seven states are looking at running out of landfill space in the next five years, one state will reach capacity in five to 10 years and three states have 11 to 20 years to go. But 22 states have available landfill space for decades to come, Staley says. Nationally, Staley says he estimates that the U.S. has about 62 years of landfill capacity remaining in its current facilities.
David Biderman, president and chief executive officer of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) agrees that worries over diminishing landfill space have been largely overblown."
Here's another:
"Analysts from the Environmental Protection Agency and the landfill industry assure us that, despite having fewer landfills, total capacity has increased. That is, landfills are getting bigger, on average, faster than their brethren have disappeared.
Of course, not all states are equally endowed. And a landfill deficit in any region means that the nation's trash will, overall, have to travel farther.
The variation between states is startling. Arkansas reported enough capacity to go more than 600 years without opening another facility. Massachusetts and Rhode Island, on the other hand, have just 12 years of capacity remaining. New York state, despite shipping most of the Big Apple's trash across state lines, has only 25 years of capacity left.
In landfill-strapped states, the problem is more political than geological or geographical. Landfill operators can build a new site from nearly any piece of land (apart from sensitive ecological areas) in six to eight years. But many voters and bureaucrats in the Northeast, for example, would rather ship their trash across state lines than have a landfill near their homes."
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You claim you've done homework on this issue? Prove it by posting links.
A. Jones Added May 31, 2018 - 11:05pm
By the way, it occurs to me that my article wasn't about either recycling or landfill.  It was about waste-to-energy generation,
My replies weren't in response to your article; they were in response to a specific reply you made to Thomas on May 23rd. You wrote:
Landfills are problematic, and we are running out of land area.
That's incorrect. We are not running out land area on a national level. As my links show, there are two problems: 1) the issue is mainly political: despite the availability of land area for waste disposal, some people don't want facilities built, either for NIMBY or for other reasons. Whatever it is, those reasons are political in nature, not geographical or geological. And 2) Locally, some states or cities are approaching capacity, in which case, they could choose to transport their waste across state lines to other locations that will manage it for them. Local problems with capacity do not mean we are running out of landfill capacity nationally.
I don't know about the situation in the UK, but the overall hastiness of your conclusions drawn from your sloppy (or nonexistent) research leads me to suspect you're probably wrong about that, too.
Katharine Otto Added Jun 1, 2018 - 11:22am
A. Jones,
Thanks for doing research I now don't have to do.  I'm happy for the contribution to my thread about waste.  I've moved on to other things to be wrong about.
A. Jones Added Jun 3, 2018 - 2:34pm
Thanks for doing research I now don't have to do. 
You mean, "Thanks for doing research I never did at all."
You're welcome. Keep up the lousy work.

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