The Problem With Plastic



The final presenter at five and five was Ginette Garcia who has one of the most kick ass titles. I have ever seen. It's master inventor at IBM research ommited, she helped put into perspective exactly how big a problem. Plastic waste has become and it is a huge problem. The world produces around three hundred million tons of plastic every year and about half of that plastic is in the form of stuff that's intended for single use. Meaning we just toss it out afterward. Lots of communities are now recycling, but sadly only a small fraction about ten percent of plastic gets recycled. So why is that? Well, there are a few reasons one is that they're different types of plastics. And they can't all be processed in the same way. Which means they have to be sorted into different categories that takes effort and time, which also means it costs money. There are contaminants that can be a problem, particularly food waste and Garcia mentioned that we often don't know what the rules are. Are we supposed to rinse off the plastic? I some types of plastic aren't recyclable at all. And then there's the problem of economics. Plastic is pretty easy stuff to manufacturer. If it costs more money to recycle plastic than it does to just make new plastic. You have to come up with some other economic incentives to encourage recycling at the same time. Plastic is undeniably useful stuff? We rely on it for lots of things not the least of which is food packaging. It's hard to dismiss how important plastic is in keeping our foods fresher longer, which goes back to cutting Delon food waste, so how do we resolve the problem? The specific type of plastic Garcia talked about was PET or pet plastic which is found not only in packaging, but also stuff like polyester clothing the seventies. This is the type of plastic used in stuff like water and soda bottles. If you look at. A bottle made from PET you'll see the chasing arrows sign with the number one at the center, it makes up a lot of plastic, but I should point out. It's also the most recycled type of plastic in the world PT is completely recyclable the United States lags behind Europe when it comes to recycling. PET plastic we in the US recycle little more than thirty percent of PD, plastic while Europe is over the fifty percent line. But we can always do better one of the methods. We rely upon to recycle. This type of plastic is to wash the plastic. And then melted down another version uses chemicals to deep polymer is the plastic polymers long chain molecules so this approach effectively breaks those chains down, but the melting process has a zero tolerance for contamination. Meaning the only stuff that can get melted is the plastic itself. Any other stuff will foul the melted mixture and make it unusable. It also only works with clear bottles. The chemical approach has its own drawbacks. A big one being the cost of the process, which creates that economic barrier. I mentioned earlier IBM solution is called Volk cat, which stands for volatile catalyst. So what the heck does? That mean? A catalyst is a substance that facilitates chemical reaction, you would typically use a catalyst to speed up a process that would otherwise take much longer to complete catalysts do this without undergoing permanent chemical changes themselves. They're incredibly useful in hundreds of different industrial applications with the Volk cat approach. IBM could grind up ET plastic into flakes. And it wouldn't matter. If the plastic was clear or head color added to it, or if it was clean, or if it was thirty with Volk at IBM takes that plastic and puts it into a heating chamber,

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