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POLYTHENE POLLUTION

INTRODUCTION
Pollution from Polythene In this age of computers and Internet, Use

and Throw culture is the order of the day. You use anything and after using

it, throw it away. Polythene pollution has drastically disturbed everyman’s

life style. Polythene material can be seen spread over in the streets, in the

neighborhood, in the rivulets, river-banks of the small or big rivers. Even

Ganga, Yamuna and other rivers all are covered with a thick layer of

polythene material.. Degradation of polyethne is a great challenge as the

materials are increasingly used. Ignorance of the people who don’t care

about the effects of proper waste disposal and who may not know about the

effects of improper waste disposal. They therefore dump the polythene bags

carelessly. Emphasis should be put on the use of paper bags. This is because

the paperbags are also light and they can easily decompose, Globalization

has added to this problem in a big way. Electronic gadgets all are designed

with a view to use and throw, because the repairs are costly. In USA and

other western countries Garbage disposal problem has reached a horrifying

level. But they have developed a meticulous system of garbage disposal with

periodical review. In India we have to prepare ourselves for this gigantic

onslaught of pollution. Enough is enough! We need to be disciplined and we

must cultivate civic sense to save India from this disaster. In order to fight

the menace of Polythene pollution, the Local Self Government institutions


have come up with laws restricting the use of polythene. But the menace of

polythene continues unabated. In fact it is no use thrusting such laws which

are not practical. But they do not face such problems as we face in India.

There are strict laws for the disposal of the polythene bags. The polythene,

after use, is dumped at the garbage disposal pots or Trashes. There are

different garbage disposal pots for dumping polythene, paper orother waste

material. There is strict enforcement of laws which provides for punitive

measures if garbage is thrown at unspecified places. The citizens comply

with the rules with responsibility. But in India there is no enforcement of law,

with the result the entire road or the Mohalla becomes the Garbage disposal

place. We as citizen have a responsibility towards this burning problem. We

should use the polythene material but must throw the same at specified

garbage disposal pots. A vigilant public opinion can only fight the problems

arising out of the use of polythene, for which we all must owe responsibility

seriously. Trillions of polythene bags are used world over every year. They

persist on this earth to haunt us and our generations for centuries.Polythene

chokes the drains, the water bodies, pollute the land and poison us slowly

but surely. Even mowed grass cannot escape the polythene

menace.Polythene has been recovered from the rumen of countless cattle

and is a major threat to animals also.Polythene pollution is an epidemic

now.Polythene is indestructible. One particle of polythene is further made of

many particles. If we continue to use polythene, the earth would become

polluted on an alarming rate.


DESCRIPTION

Polyethylene is a polymer consisting of long chains of the monomer ethylene

(IUPAC name ethane). The recommended scientific name polyethene is

systematically derived from the scientific name of the monomer [1][2]. In

certain circumstances it is useful to use a structure-based nomenclature; in

such cases IUPAC recommends poly (methylene) [2] (poly(methanediyl) is an

non-preferred alternative [3][4]). The difference in names between the two

systems is due to the opening up of the monomer's double bond upon

polymerisation.In the polymer industry the name is sometimes shortened to

PE in a manner similar to that by which other polymers like polypropylene

and polystyrene are shortened to PP and PS respectively. In the United

Kingdom the polymer is commonly called polythene, although this is not


recognized scientifically. The ethene molecule (known almost universally by

its common name ethylene) C2H4 isCH2=CH2, Two CH2 groups connected

by a double bond

Plastic is one of the few new chemical materials which pose

environmental problem. Polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene is

largely used in the manufacture of plastics. Synthetic polymers are easily

molded into complex shapes, have high chemical resistance, and are more

or less elastic. Some can be formed into fibers or thin transparent films.

These properties have made them popular in many durable or disposable

goods and for packaging materials. These materials have molecular weight

ranging from several thousands to 1,50,000. Excessive molecular size seems

to be mainly responsible for the resistance of these chemicals to

biodegradation and their persistence in soil environment for a long time.

Plastic in the environment is regarded to be more an aesthetic

nuisance than a hazard, since the material is biologically quite inert. The

plastic industry in the US alone is $ 50 billion per year and is obviously a

tempting market for biotechnology gical enterprises. Biotechnological

processes are being developed as an alternative to existing route or to get

new biodegradable biopolymers. 20% of solid municipal wastes in US is

plastic. Non-degradable plastics accumulate at the rate of 25 million tonnes

per year. According to an estimate more than 100 million tonnes of plastic is

produced every year all over the world. In India it is only 2 million tonnes. In
India use of plastic is 2 kg per person per year while in European countries it

is 60 kg per person per year while that in US it is 80 kg per person per year.

HISTORY
Polyethylene was first synthesized by the German chemist Hans von

Pechmann who prepared it by accident in 1898 while heating diazomethane.

When his colleagues Eugen Bamberger and Friedrich Tschirner characterized

the white, waxy, substance that he had created they recognized that it

contained long -CH2- chains and termed it polymethylene.The first

industrially practical polyethylene synthesis was discovered (again by

accident) in 1933 by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson at the ICI works in

Northwich, England.[5] Upon applying extremely high pressure (several

hundred atmospheres) to a mixture of ethylene and benzaldehyde they

again produced a white, waxy, material. Because the reaction had been

initiated by trace oxygen contamination in their apparatus the experiment

was, at first, difficult to reproduce. It was not until 1935 that another ICI

chemist, Michael Perrin,developed this accident into a reproducible high-


pressure synthesis for polyethylene that became the basis for industrial LDPE

production beginning in 1939.Subsequent landmarks in polyethylene

synthesis have revolved around the development of several types of catalyst

that promote ethylene polymerization at more mild temperatures and

pressures. The first of these was a chromium trioxide-based catalyst

discovered in 1951 by Robert Banks and J. Paul Hogan at Phillips Petroleum.

In 1953 the German chemist Karl Ziegler developed a catalytic system based

on titanium halides and organoaluminium compounds that worked at even

milder conditions than the Phillips catalyst. The Phillips catalyst is less

expensive and easier to work with, however, and both methods are used in

industrial practice.Biodegradable plastics are plastics that will decompose in

natural aerobic (composting) and anaerobic (landfill) environments.

Biodegradation of plasticscan be achieved by enabling microorganisms in the

environment to metabolize themolecular structure of plastic films to produce

an inert humus-like material that is less harmful to the environment. They

may be composed of either bioplastics,which are plastics whose components

are derived from renewable raw materials, or petroleum-based plastics which

utilize an additive. The use of bio-active compounds compounded with

swelling agents ensures that, when combined with heat and moisture, they

expand the plastic's molecular structure and allow the bio-active compounds

to metabolizes and neutralize the plastic.Biodegradable plastics typically are

produced in two forms: injection molded (solid, 3D shapes), typically in the


form of disposable food service items, and films, typically sold as collection

bags for leaves and grass trimmings, and agricultural mulch.

CAUSES OF PLASTIC POLLUTION

Plastics are used because they are easy and cheap to make and they

can last a long time. Unfortunately these same useful qualities can make

plastic a huge pollution problem. Because the plastic is cheap it gets

discarded easily and its persistence in the environment can do great harm.

Urbanization has added to the plastic pollution in concentrated form in cities.

Plastic thrown on land can enter into drainage lines and chokes them

resulting into floods in local areas in cities as experienced in Mumbai, India in

1998. It was claimed in one of the programmes on TV Channel that eating

plastic bags results in death of 100 cattles per day in U.P. in India. In
stomach of one dead cow, as much as 35 kg of plastic was found. Because

plastic does not decompose, and requires high energy ultra-violet light to

break down, the amount of plastic waste in our oceans is steadily increasing.

More than 90% of the articles found on the sea beaches contained plastic.

The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tends to originate

from use on land, such as packaging materials used to wrap around other

goods, remote rural beaches the rubbish tends to have come from ships,

such as fishing equipment used in the fishing industry. This plastic can affect

marine wildlife in two important ways: by entangling creatures, and by being

eaten. Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic pollution, and all

seven of the world's turtle species are already either endangered or

threatened for a number of reasons. Turtles get entangled in fishing nets,

and many sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags in their

stomachs. Turtles mistake floating transparent plastic bags for jellyfish and

eat them. In one dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific more than 1000

pieces of plastic were found in the stomach. A recent US report concluded

that more than 100000 marine mammals die each year in the world's oceans

by eating or becoming entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is

worsening World-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to eat plastic

articles. This includes 36 species found off South Africa. A recent study of

blue petrel chicks at South Africa's remote Marion Island showed that 90% of

chicks examined had plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them

accidentally by their parents. South African seabirds are among the worst
affected in the world. Plastics may remain in the stomachs, blocking

digestion and possibly causing starvation.

PROBLEMS CAUSED DUE TO POLYTHENE


POLLUTION
Industrial practices in plastic manufacture can lead to polluting

effluents and the use of toxic intermediates, the exposure to which can be

hazardous. Better industrial practices have led to minimizing exposure of

plant workers to harmful fumes; for example, there have been problems in

the past resulting from workers being exposed to toxic vinyl chloride vapor

during the production of polyvinyl chloride. Much progress has been made in

developing "green processes" that avoid the use of detrimental substances.

For example, phosgene, a toxic "war gas," was formerly used in the

manufacture of polycarbonates. New processes, now almost universally


employed, eliminate its use. Also, the "just in time" approach to manufacture

has been made possible by computer-controlled processes, whereby no

significant amounts of intermediates are stored, but just generated as

needed. In addition, efforts are ongoing to employ "friendly" processes

involving enzyme-catalyzed low-temperature methods akin to biological

reactions to replace more polluting high-temperature processes involving

operations like distillation. Spillage of plastic pellets that find their way into

sewage systems, and eventually to the sea, has hurt wildlife that may

mistake the pellets for food. Better "housekeeping" of plastic molding

facilities is being enforced in an attempt to address this problem. Most

plastics are relatively inert biologically, and they have been employed in

medical devices such as prosthetics, artery replacements, and "soft" and

interocular lenses. Problems with their use largely result from the presence

of trace amounts of nonplastic components such as monomers and

plasticizers. This has led to restrictions on the use of some plastics for food

applications, but improved technology has led to a reduction in the content

of such undesirable components. For example, the use of polyacrylonitrile for

beverage bottles was banned at one time because the traces of its

monomer, acrylonitrile, were a possible carcinogen. However, current

practices render it acceptable today. There has been concern

about endocrine disruption from phthalate-containing plasticizers used for

plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The subject of this possible side

effect is controversial,
Post-Consumer Plastic Waste, 2000 (Adapted from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.)

PROBLEMS IN HUMANS
People are exposed to these chemicals not only during manufacturing, but

also by using plastic packages, because some chemicals migrate from the plastic

packaging to the foods they contain. Examples of plastics contaminating food have
been reported with most plastic types, including Styrene from polystyrene,

plasticizers from PVC, antioxidants from polyethylene, and Acetaldehyde from PET.

Among the factors controlling migration are the chemical structure of the

migrants and the nature of the packaged food. In studies cited in Food Additives

and Contaminants, LDPE, HDPE, and polypropylene bottles released measurable

levels of BHT, Chimassorb 81, Irganox PS 800, Irganix 1076, and Irganox 1010 into

their contents of vegetable oil and ethanol. Evidence was also found that

acetaldehyde migrated out of PET and into water.

Recommendations

Find alternatives to plastic products whenever possible. Some specific

suggestions:

* Buy food in glass or metal containers; avoid polycarbonate drinking bottles

with Bisphenol A

* Avoid heating food in plastic containers, or storing fatty foods in plastic

containers or plastic wrap.

* Do not give young children plastic teethers or toys

* Use natural fiber clothing, bedding and furniture

* Avoid all PVC and Styrene products

• Buy food in glass or metal containers

• Avoid heating food in plastic containers, or storing fatty foods in plastic

containers or plastic wrap

• Do not give young children plastic teethers or toys

• Use natural fiber clothing, bedding and furniture

• Avoid all PVC and Styrene products


Plastic Common Uses Adverse Health
Effects

Polyvinyl Food packaging, Can cause cancer,


chloride plastic wrap, birth defects,
(#3PVC) containers for genetic changes,
toiletries, chronic bronchitis,
cosmetics, crib ulcers, skin
bumpers, floor diseases, deafness,
tiles, pacifiers, vision failure,
shower curtains, indigestion, and
toys, water liver dysfunction
pipes, garden
hoses, auto
upholstery,
inflatable
swimming pools

Phthalates Softened vinyl Endocrine


(DEHP, products disruption, linked
DINP, manufactured to asthma,
and others) with phthalates developmental and
include vinyl reproductive
clothing, effects. Medical
emulsion paint, waste with PVC
footwear, and phthalates is
printing inks, regularly
non-mouthing incinerated
toys and causing public
children’s health effects from
products, the release of
product dioxins and
packaging and mercury, including
food wrap, vinyl cancer, birth
flooring, blood defects, hormonal
bags and tubing, changes, declining
IV containers sperm counts,
and infertility,
components, endometriosis, and
surgical gloves, immune system
breathing tubes, impairment.
general purpose
labware,
inhalation
masks, many
other medical
devices

Polycarbonate, with Water bottles Scientists have


Bisphenol A (#7) linked very low
doses of bisphenol
A exposure to
cancers, impaired
immune function,
early onset of
puberty, obesity,
diabetes, and
hyperactivity,
among other
problems
(Environment
California)

Polystyrene Many food Can irritate eyes,


containers for nose and throat
meats, fish, and can cause
cheeses, yogurt, dizziness and
foam and clear unconsciousness.
clamshell Migrates into food
containers, foam and stores in body
and rigid plates, fat. Elevated rates
clear bakery of lymphatic and
containers, hematopoietic
packaging cancers for
"peanuts", foam workers.
packaging, audio
cassette
housings, CD
cases,
disposable
cutlery, building
insulation,
flotation
devices, ice
buckets, wall
tile, paints,
serving trays,
throw-away hot
drink cups, toys

Polyethelyne Water and soda Suspected human


(#1 PET) bottles, carpet carcinogen
fiber, chewing
gum, coffee
stirrers, drinking
glasses, food
containers and
wrappers, heat-
sealed plastic
packaging,
kitchenware,
plastic bags,
squeeze bottles,
toys

Polyester Bedding, Can cause eye and


clothing, respiratory-tract
disposable irritation and acute
diapers, food skin rashes
packaging,
tampons,
upholstery

Urea- Particle board, Formaldehyde is a


formaldehyde plywood, suspected
building carcinogen and has
insulation, fabric been shown to
finishes cause birth defects
and genetic
changes. Inhaling
formaldehyde can
cause cough,
swelling of the
throat, watery
eyes, breathing
problems,
headaches, rashes,
tiredness

Polyurethane Cushions, Bronchitis,


Foam mattresses, coughing, skin and
pillows eye problems. Can
release toluene
diisocyanate which
can produce
severe lung
problems

Acrylic Clothing, Can cause


blankets, breathing
carpets made difficulties,
from acrylic vomiting, diarrhea,
fibers, nausea, weakness,
adhesives, headache and
contact lenses, fatigue
dentures, floor
waxes, food
preparation
equipment,
disposable
diapers, sanitary
napkins, paints

Tetrafluoro- Non-stick Can irritate eyes,


ethelyne coating on nose and throat
cookware, and can cause
clothes irons, breathing
ironing board difficulties
covers,
plumbing and
tools
THE THREAT TO WILDLIFE
This plastic can affect marine wildlife in two important ways: by entangling c

reatures, and by being eaten.

Turtles: Turtles are particularly badly affected by plastic

pollution, and all seven of the world's turtle species are already

either endangered or threatened for a number of reasons. Turtles

get entangled in fishing nets, and many sea turtles have been

found dead with plastic bags in their stomachs. It is believed

they mistake these floating semi-transparent bags for jellyfish

and eat them. The turtles die from choking or from being unable

to eat. One dead turtle found off Hawaii in the Pacific was found

to have more than 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach including

part of a comb, a toy truck wheel and nylon rope.

Marine Mammals: There is great concern about the effect of

plastic rubbish on marine mammals in particular, because many

of these creatures are already under threat for a variety of other


reasons e.g. whale populations have been decimated by

uncontrolled hunting. A recent US report concluded that 100 000

marine mammals die each year in the world's oceans by eating

or becoming entangled in plastic rubbish, and the position is

worsening.When a marine mammal such as a Cape fur seal gets

caught up in a large piece of plastic, it may simply drown, or

become exhausted and die of starvation due to the greater effort

needed to swim, or the plastic may kill slowly over a period of

months or years as it bites into the animal causing wounds, loss

of blood and/or severing of limbs.

"Ghost Nets": A large number of marine creatures become

trapped and killed in "ghost nets". These are pieces of gill nets

which have been lost by fishing vessels. Other pieces of fishing

equipment such as lobster pots may also keep trapping

creatures.

Marine Birds: World-wide, 75 marine bird species are known to

eat plastic articles. This includes 36 species found off South

Africa. A recent study of blue petrel chicks at South Africa's

remote Marion Island showed that 90% of chicks examined had

plastic in their stomachs apparently fed to them accidentally by

their parents. South African seabirds are among the worst

affected in the world. Plastics may remain in the stomachs,

blocking digestion and possibly causing starvation. As particular


species seem to be badly affected this may be a threat to whole

populations of these birds.

Plastics cause Health Problems in Monkeys


Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine have linked a chemical found in

everyday plastics to problems with brain function and mood disorders in monkeys --

the first time the chemical has been connected to health problems in primates.

The study is the latest in an accumulation of research that has raises concerns

about bisphenol A, or BPA, a compound that gives a shatterproof quality to

polycarbonate plastic and has been found to leach from plastic into food and water.

The Yale study comes as federal toxicologists yesterday reaffirmed an earlier draft

report finding that there is "some concern" that bisphenol A can cause

developmental problems in the brain and hormonal systems of infants and children.

"There remains considerable uncertainty whether the changes seen in the animal

studies are directly applicable to humans, and whether they would result in clear

adverse health effects," John R. Bucher, associate director of the National

Toxicology Program, said in a statement. "But we have concluded that the

possibility that BPA may affect human development cannot be dismissed."


PLASTIC BABY BOTTLES

WASHINGTON - A chemical used to make baby bottles and other shatterproof

plastic containers could be linked to a range of hormonal problems, a

preliminary government report has found.

The report was greeted by some environmental groups as confirmation of

their concerns, while chemical makers latched on to the report’s preliminary

nature and its authors’ warning against drawing overly worrisome

conclusions.

The federal National Toxicology Program said Tuesday that experiments on

rats found precancerous tumors, urinary tract problems and early puberty

when the animals were fed or injected with low doses of the plastics

chemical bisphenol A.
CONTROLLING PLASTIC POLLUTION

Reduced Use and Recycling


There is growing concern about the excess use of plastics, particularly in packaging.

This has been done, in part, to avoid the theft of small objects. The use of plastics

can be reduced through a better choice of container sizes and through the

distribution of liquid products in more concentrated form. A concern is the proper

disposal of waste plastics. Litter results from careless disposal, and decomposition

rates in landfills can be extremely long. Consumers should be persuaded or required

to divert these for recycling or other environmentally acceptable procedures. Marine

pollution arising from disposal of plastics from ships or flow from storm sewers must

be avoided. Disposal at sea is prohibited by federal regulation.Recycling of plastics

is desirable because it avoids their accumulation in landfills. While plastics

constitute only about 8 percent by weight or 20 percent by volume of municipal

solid waste, their low density and slowness to decompose makes them a visible

pollutant of public concern. It is evident that the success of recycling is limited by

the development of successful strategies for collection and separation. Recycling of

scrap plastics by manufacturers has been highly successful and has proven

economical, but recovering discarded plastics from consumers is more difficult. It is

well recognized that separated plastics can be recycled to yield more superior

products than possible for mixed ones.

Labeling plastic items with symbols has been employed, which enables consumers

to identify them easily for placement in separate containers for curbside pickup.

However, success depends on how conscientious consumers are in employing such

standards and the ability of collectors to keep various types of plastic separate.
Even a small amount of a foreign plastic in recycling feedstock can lead to the

appreciable deterioration of properties, and it is difficult to achieve a high degree of

purity. Manual sorting at recycling centers helps, but even trained sorters have

difficulty identifying recyclables. Furthermore, manual sorting is an unattractive

task and retaining labor willing to be trained for this is problematic. Automatic

sorting techniques have been developed that depend on various physical, optical, or

electronic properties of plastics for identification. Such methods prove difficult

because of the variety of sizes, shapes, and colors of plastic objects that are

encountered. Although in principle it is possible to create devices that can separate

plastics with varying degrees of success, the equipment generally becomes more

expensive with increasing efficiency. Technology for this continues to improve, and

it is becoming possible to successfully separate mixed plastics derived from

curbside pickup using such equipment.

To separate plastics, it is first necessary to identify the different types as indicated

in the table. One must also distinguish between thermoplastics and thermosets. The

latter, as found in tires and melamine dishes, has molecules that are interconnected

by "crosslinks" and cannot be readily melted for recycling unless they are

chemically reduced to low-molecular-weight species. For tires, recycling has not

proved economical so disposal has involved grinding them up as asphalt additives

for roads or burning in cement kilns.Over 1.5 million pounds of plastic bottles were

recycled in 2000, representing a four-fold increase in the amount of plastic recycled

the previous decade. Nonetheless, the capacity to recycle bottles appreciably

exceeds their supply by about 40 percent, so local governments and environmental

groups need to encourage greater participation in this practice among

consumers.Profitable operations are currently in place for recycling polyethylene


terephthalate (PET) from bottle sources and converting it into products such as

fibers. One persistent problem, though, is obtaining clean enough feedstock to

avoid the clogging of orifices in spinnerets by foreign particles. This has limited the

ability to produce fine denier fibers from such sources. PET recycling is also

constrained by regulations limiting its use to produce items in contact with food

because there had been concern about contamination in consideration of improved

recycling techniques.A leading candidate for recycle feedstock is carpets because

replacement carpets are usually installed by professionals able to identify

recyclables and who serve as a ready source for recycling operations. They face the

problem, however, of separating the recyclable carpet components from other parts

such as jute backing and dirt. Such recycling operations have been only marginally

profitable.Polystyrene (PS) is another potentially recyclable polymer, but identifying

a readily collectable source is problematic. One had been the Styrofoam

"clamshells" fast-food chains use to package hamburgers. Recyclers were able to

profitably collect polystyrene from such sources and produce salable products.

However, largely because of public pressure, this use of polystyrene has


Major Types of Plastics by S.P.I. Codes and Types of Plastic Packaging. (
Modern Plastics, January, 1992
)

declined, so related recycling practices have largely disappeared too. Cafeteria

items from school lunchrooms are another potential, but the collection of such

objects involves the development of an infrastructure, often not in place. In these

cases, it is necessary to separate the polystyrene from paper and food waste, but

washing and flotation techniques have been developed for this purpose.

Increasing amounts of plastic components appear in automobiles, and their

recovery from junked cars is a possibility. Its success depends on the ability of a

prospective "junker" to identify and separate the plastic items. Three efforts may

aid in this accomplishment:


1. The establishment of databases to enable junkers to learn what kinds of

plastic are used in what parts of what model cars.

2. A reduction in the number of different plastics used for car construction.

3. The design of cars such that plastic parts may be removed easily (this would

require special types of fasteners).

This illustrates a general need—the design of plastic-containing products with the

ability to recycle in mind. As a consequence of public concern about the

environmental problems arising from plastic use, industry is responding to these

needs. The effort continues to use fewer different kinds of plastics and to adopt

designs that allow for easier recycling but still retain desirable properties. There are,

however, some worthwhile products that can be produced from mixed plastic, such

as "plastic lumber" used for picnic benches and marine applications such as docks

and bulkheads that successfully replace wooden lumber which often contains toxic

preservatives and arsenic. But, the market for such a product is limited, so efforts to

obtain separated plastics are preferred.

Using Degradable Plastics


Discarded plastics are hard to eliminate from the environment because they

do not degrade and have been designed to last a long time. It is possible to design

polymers containing monomer species that may be attacked by chemical,

biological, or photochemical action so that degradation by such means will occur


over a predetermined period of time. Such polymers can be made by chemical

synthesis (as with polylactic acid) or through bacterial or agricultural processes (as

with the polyalkonates). Although such processes are often more expensive than

conventional ones, cost would undoubtedly drop with increased production volume.

One success story was the introduction of carbonyl groups into polyethylene by

mixing carbon monoxide with ethylene during synthesis. These carbonyl groups are

chomophores that lead to chain breaking upon the absorption of ultraviolet light.

The polymer is then broken down into small enough units that are subject to

bacterial attack. This approach has been successful, for example, in promoting the

disappearance of rings from beverage cans, which are potentially harmful to

wildlife.

A problem with the degradation of plastics is that it is probably undesirable in

landfills because of the leachants produced that may contaminate water supplies. It

is better in these instances to ship the plastics to composting facilities. This requires

the separation of degradable plastics from other materials and the availability of

such facilities. In most cases, the infrastructure needed for such an approach is not

in place. This has discouraged its use for disposable diapers that are said to

constitute 1 to 2 percent of landfill volume.

Degradable polymers may have limited use in the reduction of litter and

production of flushable plastics, for example, feminine hygiene products, but it

seems unlikely that the use of such materials will be a viable means of disposal for

large amounts of plastic products. Degradation leads to the loss of most of the

potential energy content of plastics that might be recovered by trash-to-energy

procedures.
Converting Trash to Energy
A method of plastic disposal with more positive environmental implications is

burning and recovering the energy for power generation or heating. Plastics contain

much of the energy potential of the petroleum from which they are made, and they,

in a sense, are just borrowing this energy that may be recovered when the plastic is

burned. Environmentalists and the public have objected to this procedure, leading

to legislative restrictions. This has arisen, in part, because of the image of "old-

fashioned" incinerators polluting the air with toxic fumes and ash. However, it is

possible to construct a "high-tech" incinerator designed to operate at appropriate

temperatures and with sufficient air supply that these problems are minimized.

Remaining toxic substances in fumes may be removed by scrubbing, and studies

have shown that no significant air pollution results. Toxic ash, for the most part,

does not arise from the polymer components of the feedstock, but rather from other

materials mixed with the polymers as well as from fillers, catalyst content, and

pigments associated with the polymers. Proper design of the polymers and crude

separation of the incinerator feedstock can reduce this problem. Furthermore, if the

feedstock was not incinerated but placed in landfills, contaminants would ultimately

enter the environment in an uncontrolled way. Incineration reduces the volume, so

that the ash, which may contain them, can be disposed of under more controlled

conditions. Also, it is possible to insolublize the ash by converting it into a cement

like material that will not readily dissolve.

Facilities for converting trash to energy in an environmentally acceptable way are

expensive and at present not cost-effective when considering short-range funding.

However, in the long run, they are environmentally desirable and reduce the need
for alternative means for plastic waste disposal. It is imperative that legislators and

taxpayers soon adopt this long-range perspective.

Processing of Bioplastics
Presence of nucleating agents (which facilitate crystallization) or the use of

plasticiser shortens the processing cycles during the moulding operations. There are

two main points about processing of PHBV bioplastics - (i) The limited thermal

stability of the polymer and so it degrades rapidly above 195 degree centi. (ii) The

need to optimise conditions to allow a maximum crystallization rate (which reduces

cycle times). The maximum rate of crystallization is reported to be at about 55-60

degree centi. which is significantly closer to Tg than the Tm. Processing

temperatures should not exceed 180 degree centi. and duration of time when the

material is in melt state should be kept minimum. At the end of a run the processing

equipment should be purged with polyethylene. When blow moulding the blow-pin

and the mould should be at about 60 degree centi. to optimise crystallisation rates.

Similarly injection moulds are recommended at 55-65 degree centi. The low-

hydroxyvalerate, unplasticised grades are most critical to process, requiring the

higher processing temperatures. Conditions are slightly less critical with the higher

hydroxyvalerate containing and plasticised grades. In addition to producing PHAs in

dry powder form for melt processing, Metabolix is also developing PHA latexes.

These materials have unique film forming properties, which are finding application

in higher performance applications as well as in more traditional commodity uses.

Metabolix company supplies PHA samples to companies under research and

development agreements.
CONSERVATION ACTION
The problem of plastic pollution is serious and requires further urgent study.

Immediate action is also required such as :

• Reduction of the amount of plastic used in packaging which is usually

immediately thrown away. Re-use of plastics should be encouraged.

• Plastic wrapping and bags should carry a warning label stating the dangers of

plastic pollution, and shoppers should be encouraged to use their own bags,

or recycled paper bags.

WHAT YOU CAN DO


• Buy products with less Plastic packaging and tell store Personnel why you are

doing so. Shoppers should use their own bags or recycled paper bags.

• Support recycling schemes and promote support for one in your local area.

• Fishermen throughout South Africa should not throw away waste line, net or

plastic litter - this causes huge suffering and many deaths.

• Practice and promote proper disposal of plastics in your home and at the

beach. Always remember that litter generates litter. Never dispose of plastics

in the sewage system.

• At the beach dispose of plastics and other litter in the bins provided. If these

facilities are inadequate, contact the local authority responsible and lodge a

complaint. Take your litter back home with you if there are no receptacles on
the beach. Pick up any plastic litter you may see on the beach or in rock

pools in the vicinity in which you are sitting or walking. Encourage young

children to do likewise.

• In the street never throw plastic or other litter out of your car or drop it on

the pavement or in the gutter.

• Set an example to others and encourage them to help. Plastics are not

themselves a problem. They are useful and popular materials which can be

produced with relatively little damage to the environment. The problem is the

excessive use of plastics in one-off applications together with careless

disposal