Tag Archives: plastic

Waste Not . . .

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 sizable 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, and generate the most waste in the world, 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.  But many US landfill sites are old and fast reaching 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.



Has anyone considered the carbon footprint (and excessive waste) of all this single use packaging?  Whatever that fluorescent light bulb saves in end-of-line energy use is used up front in excessive packaging.  Why has Congress outlawed incandescent light bulbs?  Because if people had a choice, they would buy them.  Deprived of choice, people are forced to buy the patented technology or go back to using candles.



“We don’t intend to honor patents”

In my wildest dreams, I envision Fidel and Raul Castro refusing to honor foreign patents.  Think of it:  dream dirt, fertilized by oxen and horses since the USSR collapsed in 1991.  Cuba lost its oil source and its sugar market at the same time.  Cubans almost starved, so Fidel invested in the improvements necessary to life:  food and health care.  As a result, he has grown generations of healthy, self-sufficient individuals.

Because of ongoing US spitefulness, in the form of trade embargos, torturing operations, and general scapegoating, Cubans have been forced to remain stuck in time, before tools were made of plastic, before bulldozers and pavement planted thermals in over-heated cities.

Much to United States’ embarrassment, the Castro team has proved that Cuba can survive and prosper without US help.

Hahaha.  Well, if Cuba refused to honor foreign patents, Monsanto and Dow/Dupont’s stockholders would poop in their pants.  Patents are hot commodities, a bloodfest for lawyers, who win either way the FDA blows.  I’ve read that up to 80% of America’s corn is already mutated, so the time for labeling is long past.  Just assume it’s patented food until otherwise proven.

Cuba could then thumb its nose at the FDA, whose nose is up its ass.  (I know this because FDA recommendations stink.  I’m horrified at the succession of FDA-launched food scares, intentional panic-creation with too little or misleading information.)

Beware the patent industry, is all I gotta say to the Castros’ Communal Capitalists, who believe the product is its own patent.  Let the lawyers and government do the paperwork on their own time.

Also, don’t let them trap you into debt.  Eminent domain all foreign assets, including Guantanamo Bay, and especially assets held by corporations like Pfizer, Walmart, and McDonalds.  Use the reclaimed land to pay off any debt, then party with unpatented drugs, and drink to everyone’s health and wealth.

The more I think of it, the better it sounds.  As America drowns in its environmental toxins, it continues to churn out more of them, with no thought of tomorrow.  I think about the growing cesspool of “unintended consequences” now.  I also hate seeing deformed birds, strangled porpoises, and sickly babies that “progress” (downhill fast) is bleeding us to pay for.  Cuba is relatively plastic and packaging free, I hope, at least so far.  Let’s hope they can keep it that way.

Cuba:  A New History, by British journalist Richard Gott, was published in 2004.  I reviewed it on this blog 10/22/15.

In 2005, Harpers‘ published “The Cuba Diet: What will you be eating when the revolution comes?”, by Bill McKibben, April, 2005.  The following month, the ecologist came out with  “Cuba: Health Without Wealth,”  by Brendon Sainsbury, June, 2005.


Making Waste


April, 2016

It occurred to me yesterday that money hoarding and information hoarding go together.  Information hoarding is most obvious in the patent industry.  This translates into mass confusion at the grassroots level, where multiple companies compete on the same turf for “market share.”

faucetplastic0316My new bathroom faucet provides the most recent example of this dysfunctionality.  Home Depot supplies only one brand of faucet, and the bottom of the line (read “simplest”) faucet only comes in one color, an off-color, “polished nickel,” so doesn’t match my formerly standard chrome.  In the 20 years since I bought the old faucet, the metal to plastic ratio has declined maybe 50%.  The drain pipe, pivot nut, and strap are now plastic.  I only needed the new faucet because the plastic gears inside both handles on the old one broke.

Plastic gears, plastic joints, and plastic moving parts have replaced metal in an across-the-board move that creates enormous waste and is dangerous, to boot.  I’m thinking of the aluminum lawn chair that snapped without warning because of the plastic joints.  Plastic, unlike metal or wood, is unfixable, so the entire product must be discarded.

Back to the faucet:  I considered substituting the old metal drain pipe for the new plastic one, but found that male and female ends had been reversed.

Why?  I have to wonder if patents have replaced standardized parts in our universalized conveniences.

Who benefits from this subtle downgrading of standard household equipment?  Certainly not the homeowner, who has not only the expense but the inconvenience of replacing equipment that should have lasted much longer.  Faucets installed all over town in the early 1900s are still functional.   While somewhat corroded and rusty on the outside, they still work as well as ever.

This isolated example would be a minor problem, except that every new replacement product I buy is worse than the old one.  Why did I even have to buy a new one?

“We can’t get parts,” is the standard answer.  When I suggest that digital controls on everything from my propane gas stove, dryer, and tankless water heater, to microwave–and even coffee percolator–add unnecessary levels of complexity and increase electrical and repair costs, people look at me as though I’m the crazy one.

stovefrigidairedig0416Why, in an age when we claim to want to reduce energy waste, are we being maneuvered into untenable situations like this?  My desire to free myself from the grid and Southern Company’s monopoly is blocked at every turn by corporate desperation to keep me hooked into a system that bleeds individuals like me dry.

And they wonder why the economy is imploding?

*The Waste Makers, by Vance Packard, (1963) which I read in the 1970s, made a profound and enduring impression.  I skimmed through it while writing this blog and see that Packard’s observations are even more apparent today.  It should be required reading in every high school.

**Total cost of replacing the Frigidaire stove’s digital control panel was $115. (The replacement part was $82).


Stop the Spread of GoverCorp Cancer


Stop the Spread of GoverCorp Cancer
Value = (Time + Money) X Attitude
Attitude = Everything

 A potentially fatal carcinoma of intra-cranial fat cells, GoverCorp cancer kills its victims by helping them to death. It sucks up time and money and bills you for it. No one is immune, but you can minimize risk.

 The pathophysiology of GoverCorp cancer:

* Money is a tax liability. The less you have, the less you pay in taxes.

* It can’t tax your time unless you allow it.

* GoverCorp cancer victims’ time and money have been terminally taxed. The situation is grave.

Debt + Overhead + Taxation = Slavery

 Risk avoidance strategies to combat GoverCorp cancer:

* Avoid GoverCorp-infested areas that cost time or money.

* Practice “Demand Side Economics.” Demand what you need instead of what they have. Avoid heavily advertised products entombed in plastic and packaging. You and the environment pay their overhead. If it doesn’t work right, return it. Tell everybody. Reduce demand for petroleum products, like plastics, packaging, and acrylic. Shop with sturdy, reusable bags.

* The most nutritious foods are usually the least expensive: fresh produce, dried beans, rice and other grains, dairy. Your money goes into food value rather than processing, packaging, advertising, Wall Street profits, and distribution. If you buy less, you pay less in taxes. If you earn less, you also pay less in taxes.

* Pay off debt. Interest and late fees do not give value for money. This will reduce overhead, debt and taxes.

* Invest in personal and family assets: your home, the tools of your trade, your or your children’s education. Take care of them, and they will take care of you. Enjoy what you already have.

* Patronize local business over corporations. Buy local products (lower distribution costs) when possible. Local businesses are more responsive to local markets. They must stand behind their products, or they don’t stay in business. They reinvest more earnings locally.

* If you have stock in Walmart, sell it. Walmart and other GoverCorp cancer perpetrators bleed local economies by shipping profits out of town.

* Minimize stock investments. Invest closer to home, where you have more control. This provides long-term gains and unexpected dividends. Pay cash when possible or trade in usefulness. Keep a good set of balanced books.

* Get your priorities straight. Technology isn’t essential to survival, but clean air, water and earth are. Get ahead by slowing down. Sell the TV and go fishing.

Diagnosis: GoverCorp Cancer
Treatment: Radical Liposuction and Shock Therapy
Prognosis: Uncertain


Demand Side Economics

If you have something I want, I’m happy to pay for it.  This is called “Demand Side Economics,” a new concept, in which the customer is right.

If Supply Side Economics could supply Demand Side Economics with what it demands, all our problems would vanish.

Unfortunately, Supply Side’s shareholders, shipping contracts, plastics and packaging contracts, and of course government contracts, prefer supplying cheap plastic junk made by slave labor in China to US markets that are glutted with poorly designed, overbuilt, patented gadgets that don’t work right.  Americans are increasingly homeless, obese, stuffed to overflowing, and looking for places to dump, but the landfills are full.

Enter Demand Side Economics.  Save coins and grow food.  Economics is economy, or thrift, a word that has fallen into disrepute among the Supply Siders who don’t care what people want or need, only what they have machines and contracts to manufacture, package, advertise, ship, and distribute.  But for one thing.  All the investment goes up in overhead, and product quality plummets while costs rise.

Hostile Packaging and Other Provocations by the Cult of Repressed Anger


by Katharine C. Otto


I bought a lawn mower blade awhile back. Getting through the plastic package was harder than installing the blade. Don’t buy a “Power Care” universal blade from Home Depot unless you have the tools to crack its shell. Scissors don’t work. You’ll need tin shears, at least, or a utility knife. Make sure you have gloves, too, because if you use a utility knife, as I did, you’ll have to brave the plastic’s rough edges and risk slicing your fingers off if the knife slips.

Hostile packaging is one of many weapons used by the Cult of Repressed Anger, a terrorist organization dedicated to proving you’re paranoid. Hostile packaging thrives on retail shelves everywhere, wraps itself around batteries and printer cartridges, encases toys and clocks, clings to CDs. Any wrapping that requires tools other than fingernails or teeth qualifies.

The Cult of Repressed Anger doesn’t rely only on hostile packaging, though. It uses excess packaging, as well. Here, Styrofoam-filled boxes and plastic wrapping inside plastic wrapping attest to the organization’s subversive nature: to increase dependence on oil by overuse of plastics. The 24-roll pack of toilet paper has six inner packages of four rolls each. And now Kroger, last bastion of naked vegetables, encloses its green leaf lettuce in cellophane.

The Cult of Repressed Anger is heavily funded by hidden costs. These are the sly little insertions in bills, bank statements and special deals. These are the bar codes instead of price tags, and the disconnect between the advertised price and the cash register. We get the little stickies on fruits and vegetables. The Cult also gives us the frequent flyer miles that disappear into mysteriously into hyperspace.

Each transgression is too small to fight – you feel petty when you try, or it takes too much time – but they add up over the day, and you wonder when you get home why you’re so irritable.

The Cult showers you with excess, forcing you to sort through the confusion and dispose of the trash. It attacks through your mailbox, e-mail, television, telephone. When it isn’t seeking you out, it’s lying in wait for you, pouncing on your time with extensive telephone menus that don’t address your problem, or assaulting you with cheerful, self-promoting propaganda while you’re on hold.   It buries instructions on how to use the stuff in exhaustive small print telling you how not to use it.  It drowns you in paperwork that someone in authority believes is necessary. This is part of its plot to destroy all the trees on the planet so oxygen will go the way of natural gas and water, and become a limited resource, for sale by the cubic foot.

The Cult delights in camouflaged concrete islands, speed bumps and roadside hedges that block your view of oncoming traffic. It places signs that give street names behind signs that sell real estate. It puts the large white arrows indicating a “turn only” lane under the cars in front of you. But the sign that tells you the street will be closed if it floods stands in the open, visible to all.

No one is safe from the Cult’s sinister reach. It feeds on itself and generates new converts every hour. It lurks within the hearts of your closest friends, your family, your spouse. Even your children can’t be trusted.

I surrender. I’ve lost the war. I’ve joined the terrorist Cult of Repressed Anger and have become a human bomb. If I explode and shoot off my mouth the next time a government drone extorts my Social Security number and thumbprint in exchange for my license to drive, don’t say I didn’t warn you first.

*Published in the Savannah Morning News June 30, 2003

Thoughts on “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story”

My reusable shopping bag collection

My reusable shopping bag collection

A pet peeve--bottled water

A pet peeve–bottled water

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, by Susan Freinkel, 2011

Watch what people buy in the grocery store, and you’ll see why Americans are fat, unhealthy, and broke. I am not your typical meeting-going, politically active “environmentalist.” I merely like getting value for my food dollar, which means cooking most things from scratch, and using basic ingredients with a minimum of packaging. It pays to remember that heavily packaged, processed, advertised, and brand name items remove nutrients, add chemicals, and raise the price.

I also have a collection of canvas and other reusable shopping bags in the trunk of my car. At the grocery store, I put wallet in one of the bags, load groceries in the bag, and dump it all out at the check-out counter, quickly grabbing the wallet before the cashier can scan it.

Thus was I reassured but horrified to read about the results of plastic proliferation in Plastic: A Toxic Love Story (2011). Author Susan Freinkel uses eight common objects–the comb, the “monobloc” chair, the Frisbee, the IV bag, the disposable lighter, the grocery “T-shirt” bag, the soda bottle, and the credit card—to provide a meaty and fact-filled but highly readable history of the plastics industry’s exponential growth, and the consequences thereof. Plastic production has grown 25-fold in the last half-century.

Freinkel notes that the plastics industry intentionally undermined natural products, such as paper grocery bags and re-fillable lighters. Coming out of the depression, people were in the habit of being resourceful, so they had to be taught to throw away. She also says half of all plastics produced go into single use applications. The average American throws out at least 300 pounds of packaging a year.

About half of plastics float, and much of it has ended up in the oceans, where huge “gyres,” or ocean whirlpools, trap plastic waste by the ton. Most concerning are the confetti-sized bits that are gobbled up by bottom feeders, with toxins leaching into body fat and moving up the food chain. The atoll Midway is home to the Laysan albatross that scoops up squid and clumps of floating fish roe and regurgitates it for young. Autopsies of these birds show huge deposits of plastic trash in their stomachs, and young may starve because their bellies are full of plastic. These birds are only one of 260 species of animals being harmed by plastic.

Environmentalists have taken to cleaning and tracking plastics from beaches, and uniformity of trash is striking: “Plastic bottles, cutlery, plates and cups; straws and stirrers, fast-food wrappers, and packaging. Smoking-related items are among the most common. Indeed, cigarette-butts—each made up of thousands of fibers of the semi-synthetic polymer cellulose acetate—top every list. Disposable lighters aren’t far behind.”

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story was well researched, written, and delivered in dispassionate tone. However, it downplays American consumerism, letting us off the hook for our excessive throw-away lifestyle. It panders to government complicity and doesn’t dare challenge the corporations whose shareholders profit by blighting the environment.