Plastic and Climate Change

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Editorial #28 Plastic and Climate Change

At the beginning of my career, as a process engineer, I was heavily involved on both the environmental and production side of energy generation, both renewable and fossil fuel.  With this background there were few aspects of the energy industry that we did not study.

With this foundation we studied all the environmental concerns of climate starting with acid rain, global cooling, global warming and now climate change.  This was before the word ecology was a commonly used in our vocabulary.  I consider myself one of the biggest environmentalist you will ever find with all these trends very concerning and alarming. But as hard as we looked, we never found any of these climate concerns directly connected to anthropologic or man made causes.  That connection has still never been established or proven, to this day.  In research there is a saying “Coincidences does not prove causation”.

Being the environmentalist that I am, I throw very little away.  I either fix, repair, recycle or save practically everything and make every effort not to waste or abuse any natural resource.  I too want the world as clean as possible.  With all my care and concerns for our environment, the one with which I have the most concern is not global warming, water or air pollution or even nuclear waste.  By far the greatest environmental concern in the world today is plastic.

Plastics are really the only visible environmental problem we actually notice.  All the other concerns would not being noticed if it were not for researchers telling us there is a problem along with their fear mongering, if their concerns are not addressed immediately.  Actually the air and water in the world is cleaner now than it has been over the past 150 years and getting better each day, except for plastics.

About 5% of all the worlds oil production is converted into plastic and it accumulates continually because it doesn’t breakdown, unlike almost everything else in modern society.  Plastic is cheap, durable and strong with practically everything around us having some plastic in it.  Packaging and bottles, clothing, containers, furniture, automobiles, ropes and nets, toys and many building materials all have a high percentage of plastic in them.  The plastic is made at high temperatures and it breaks down only by reversing that heat of formation.  In other words by burning it.

If it is not burned, it lasts for centuries.  Nature breaks it into smaller and smaller particles to the point where it is consumed by fish and birds who mistake it for food.  It clogs their digestive systems which kills them, who are in turn are eaten by scavengers which clogs their system in an almost endless cycle.

Discarded plastic is found in almost every vacant lot and field.  It blows from landfills as well as the litter on the streets and roads.  This plastic is washed into our streams and rivers which drain into our oceans. Plastic litters all the beaches of the world. Even remote, uninhabited islands in far corners of the world’s oceans are littered with plastic.

The world’s oceans rotate like a drain in a bathtub, causing debris to accumulate in the vortex.   There is a floating island of plastic, the size of Texas, in the middle of the Pacific, about 10 feet thick.  That is about 500 cubic miles of plastic floating there. Similar island exist in the vortex of all the worlds oceans. These floating plastic islands will continue to grow and remain there for centuries if something is not done to reduce plastic production or recycle it by burning or reusing it.

The culprit of this environmental disaster is everyone of us who uses plastic.  Today it is almost impossible to do anything without plastic somehow involved.  The only thing we don’t use plastics for is our food, but it is accidentally consumed by most animals who  mistake it for their food.

Part of the solution to this disaster is on the supply side. Its production must restricted or reformulate into a biodegradable product.  But that compromises the most desirable feature of plastic, its durability.

On the demand side, the solution is a “bounty” that would make it desirable to collect for recycling, like aluminum cans.  Regardless, we are all part of the problem that will “drown the planet in plastic” eventually.  It is constantly being manufactured with very little of it handled properly in order to eliminate this ecological disaster and it will continue unless we all do our part.

Keith Kube, of Crofton, is a business analyst and author of two books on business management. The books are available at the Elkhorn Valley Museum, Norfolk City Library, Norfolk High School, Norfolk Catholic, Northeast Community College and Amazon.

During his career as an engineer, investment banker and business analyst he identified traits commonly overlook that are vital for all successful business operations and government.  You can hear all his past editorials or review his books by going to his website: www.keithkube.com

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