Don’t Recycle Plastics – Burn Them


An excellent letter in The Observer. One that actually has the facts to hand, proposes the right policy. The only problem with it is that it’s a letter in The Observer, not a green or white paper from our governors. Who will, of course, pay absolutely no attention to this and will continue to do exactly the wrong thing:

We have been going the wrong way with plastics for the last 30 or more years (“Waste no more? Plan to turn plastic into fuel for homes”, News). The effort of collecting, transporting and cleaning them for possible recycling has largely failed, created much more pollution and contributed massively to climate change. The idea of burning plastics and using the energy to heat our homes was proposed by the plastics company Dow more than 30 years ago: it suggested treating all plastics as “borrowed oil”. At that time, ordinary domestic waste had a calorific value of low-grade coal, so the suggestion was that this waste should be burned in efficient plants with heat recovery and treatment of the gases produced, perhaps even trapping the carbon dioxide produced, rather than trying to recycle the complex (and dirty) mix of plastics.

Today, with higher use of more complex plastics, this makes even more sense. Mixed plastics cannot really be recycled: they are long-chain molecules, like spaghetti, so if you reheat and reprocess them, you inevitably end up with something of lower performance; it’s called down-cycling. Newsprint is what happens when you recycle paper: low strength is inevitable. Of course, this idea doesn’t deal with all the plastic already in our environment, even in our purified drinking water. Quite simply, this cannot be removed and, apart from some distressing images of trapped animals, seems to be causing little impact on human or animal life. It is time we adopted a more scientific approach.
David Reed
London NW3

Entirely so Mr. Reed, entirely so.

The only pity is that the authorities simply won’t do it.

Leave a Reply

1 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
BoganboyJonathan Harston Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Jonathan Harston
Jonathan Harston

Perzactly! I’ve (also) being saying it for more than 30 years, since before ‘O’ level Chemistry. Sheffield Council was even a leader in such conversion of waste to energy, exporting expertise to other authorities, but the government changed the rules so that such energy extraction was accounted as a negative.


Of course they changed the rules. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a problem, would there.