Saturday, June 4, 2011

Solutions to Plastic Pollution

Trash that would be buried and useless
Plastic, paper, and cans recycled instead of landfilled
Kathy Russell from TFC Recycling is one of the many people trying to make good on one time use plastic, paper, cans, and cardboard.  Her work is on the other end of the spectrum from Algalita's, 5Gyres, Jennifer O'Keefe, Danielle Richardet and what I’ve been doing over the past few years.  While we have been researching the breadth of plastic pollution and educating people on the problems with one-time use plastics, the people of TFC Recycling have been taking on this issue from another angle.  They’re giving trash value and I’m a firm believer once we give trash value, we’ll make sure it goes where it belongs, like putting money in a bank.  We don’t just throw money on the ground – that would be silly.  So is it to throw trash on the ground. 

Trash that is burned to create steam energy
The materials collected from "trash" generate dollars for this business.  These items end up going back into more products instead of sitting on the floor of a landfill while we cut down more trees, drill for more oil and gas, and extract aluminum from the earth.  Of course the companies that do that work don’t like recycling.  These businesses lose out even though their some of the richest companies in the world.   How do we fight big business?  Use less plastic and one time use items and recycle the ones you do. 

Because of Kathy’s connections we, the Richardet family and me, were also able to visit the Hampton/NASA Steam Plant.  Here they take garbage and burn it to create steam for our government lab research.  The emissions are of critical concern and of course one of my most pressing questions.  According to our tour guide, the plant surpasses  government standards of emissions meaning they burn cleaner than legal requirements while reducing the demand for petroleum, coal, and natural gas.  And other than trucking it around (we have to with petroleum, coal, and gas anyway) it is free energy.  Makes more sense than drilling miles off shore and a mile deep into the ocean floor.  Not that there aren't risks but it is much easier to put a fire out on land than it is to contain millions of barrels of oil sprawled 1000s of miles across the ocean or getting chemicals out of drinking water from fracking for natural gas.  Think about it. 


  1. We have trash-to-energy here in southern Maine, and it's the same success story. Incredibly low emissions, and major amounts of power from what otherwise would just lay fallow in the ground for centuries.

    It's a sad irony that almost every 1 item of plastic we recycle spawns 2 new items: 1 virgin item to restock the shelf, and a downcycled item made from our salvaged material. Repeat over & over & over, and we see the results all around us. If we're serious about keeping plastic out of the ocean, the only sure way to do this is to incinerate it back into its building blocks. After all, nothing else in nature knows how to get rid of it.

  2. Agreed Harry. Now that I know plastics are made out of petro, natural gas, and coal, its a no brainer. It's amazing the resistance though. People fear the emissions but according to the experts, incinerators are regulated to burn cleaner than coal. I say just like computers that used to take up a city block now fits in our pants pocket, we need to continue the technology to trap the emissions. But we won't get to zero emissions if we keep fighting incineration. Thank you for your post.

  3. Plastics start as nurdles (pre-production plastic) and sadly, they end up in our land and oceans in that form.