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How Do We Dispose Of Our Plastic?

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Author: Hai Le

Updated on August 9, 2023 • Estimated read time: 4 minutes

We live in a plastic era where plastic is used in almost everything, from food packaging to electronic devices. Even the clothes we wear are being made from plastic. Have you ever wondered where does all the plastic we use go? And how do we dispose of them?

Fun Fact: Not all plastic is recyclable. Did you know that small-size plastics (roughly 3 inches or smaller) are not recyclable? Items like plastic bags, straws, and coffee cups are not recyclable and end up being treated as trash.

Recycling is part of the solution, but there often needs to be more clarity about what should go into our recycling bin. That is why I decided to research and put together this blog for you to read.

In this blog post, we'll explore many different ways that we dispose of our plastic. We'll also take a look at the pros and cons of each method and how they affect our environment. I hope you'll enjoy reading this article and taking the right action against plastic pollution.

End Up In The Landfills

Have you ever wondered where all the plastic stuff we throw away goes? Well, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, plastics that you throw away end up in the landfill, and over 90% of that plastic arrives for a permanent stay – it will not be recycled and take hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Nearly 180,000 trucks are being used to transport garbage every day throughout the United States, driving an average of 25,000 miles per truck each year.

Landfills are the most common way to dispose of plastic waste. The process involves burying the plastic waste deep within the ground, where it will take centuries to decompose.

  • Pros: Landfills are a relatively cheap way to dispose of plastic waste.
  • Cons: Unfortunately, landfills can release harmful pollutants into the environment and take up a lot of space.

Here is What I Learn During Research: According to EcoWatch, It takes 500-1,000 years for plastic to degrade. Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form.

Summary: The majority of plastic items we throw away are being transported to a landfill, where over 90% of them will spend the next hundreds of years to biodegrade.

Far away view of an incinerator - Ecopify

End Up Being Incinerated

In the same study done by the United State Environmental Protection Agency, about 14% of discarded plastics are being incinerated in municipal facilities.

So what is incineration? Incineration is a process that burns plastic waste at high temperatures. The heat from incineration can be used to generate electricity or heat.

  • Pros: Incineration can help reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills, and it can also generate electricity or heat.
  • Cons: Unfortunately, incineration can release harmful pollutants into the environment and is an expensive method of waste disposal.

Summary: Incineration provides an alternative solution to tackle plastic waste end up in the landfill. However, it's important to remain mindful of its environmental impact and costly expenses.

Conveyor belt for recyclables in waste processing facility - Ecopify

End Up In Recycling Facility 

Plastics undoubtedly revolutionized our modern life. Without it, we wouldn't have computers, mobile phones, or cars. However, due to the skyrocketing demand for plastic, we don't have enough solutions to control and manage this much plastic, which leads to plastic being discarded everywhere.

One solution to tackle this problem is recycling, a process that transforms old/used plastic into new products. Recycling plastic not only helps to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills but also conserves precious natural resources.

  • Pros: Recycling helps to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills, and it also conserves natural resources.
  • Cons: Unfortunately, not all plastic is recyclable, and the recycling process can be expensive due to collection, transportation, and processing costs.

Note: There is 2 type of plastics: Thermoset and Thermoplastics. Thermosets typically cannot be recycled because they harden as you heat them, meaning that no matter how much heat you apply, they cannot be remelted into new material. On the other hand, thermoplastics are recyclable plastics because they can be remelted and re-molded into new products.

Summary: Plastic can also end up in recycling facilities, where it not only helps reduce landfill waste but also preserves valuable natural resources through the process of transforming old/used plastic into new ones.

Plastic water bottles pollution in ocean

End Up In The Ocean

What happens if your plastics can't make it to a landfill? When you throw away plastic, it may end up being blown away due to its lightweight nature. Consequently, it can clutter around drains, find its way into rivers, and eventually enter the sea.

Fun Fact: Most of the plastic waste from the US is shipped to developing countries around the world. In 2019, a team of Guardian reporters from 11 different countries found that America shipped 68,000 shipping containers of plastic waste to developing countries.

There are so many ways plastic can end up in the ocean. Every day, around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into the oceans. Also, according to Greenpeace, more than one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastics in our oceans.

Summary: The plastic you throw away ends up being transported to a landfill, but they often get blown away due to their lightweight. From there, they can eventually clutter around drains and enter our ocean.

Quick Takeaway

Plastics can end up in various places after disposal. A significant portion goes to landfills, where it takes hundreds of years to decompose. The smaller portion of plastics are being incinerated, while others end up in recycling facilities as an alternative method of waste management.

Understanding these pathways can encourage us to adopt more sustainable practices and minimize the environmental impact of plastic.

Frequently Asked Questions Relate To This Blog:

Question #1: Is it better to recycle plastic or throw it away?

Answer: Not all plastics are recyclable, however it is generally better to recycle plastic than to throw it away. Recycling plastic helps to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills and can save energy and resources.

Question #2: What happens to the plastic I throw away?

Answer: Most plastic that is thrown away end up in a landfill, where it take hundreds of years to decompose.

Question #3: What are the different ways to dispose my plastic?

Answer: You can throw away your plastic in the trash, so it can end up in a landfill. Or recycle your plastic so it reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills.

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