But why this insistence upon recycling plastics?

As we’ve pointed out more than once around here we really don’t want to kill off sea life with the waste products of our civilisation. This includes plastics floating around the oceans. But this means managing the wastes from our civilisation, not either recycling them all or not having wastes or a civilisation at all.

With plastic we could recycle, of course we could, at some cost. We could also not use plastics, again at some cost. We could also burn them once used but there are at least some who say this should not happen either:

The answer to plastic pollution is to not create waste in the first place

Well, no, not really. Taking a scarce resource and transforming it into something of use to humans is rather the definition of having a civilisation at all. So, it’s management of the waste which matters:

On the bright side, the ban sparked a much needed conversation about improving domestic recycling infrastructure and recycling markets, and has forced both companies and the public to re-evaluate the products and packaging that were previously assumed to be recyclable. But the ban has also been used as a wrongful justification for burning trash in incinerators.

Waste incinerators became popular in the US in the late 80s, until harmful emissions of mercury and dioxins, toxic ash, technical failures, and prohibitive costs soured the public on the industry. However, there are still more than 70 relics left over from that failed experiment which continue to pollute surrounding communities and drain city coffers.

Well, we’re not sure we believe that about incinerators but a little technical knowledge is useful here. We are, after all, 40 to 50 years advanced from when those incinerators went up and it is true that we’ve learned more about PCBs and dioxins over that time. Modern incinerators function at higher and more stable temperatures meaning that those harmful chemicals aren’t created at all, let alone released.

But OK, let’s roll with the assertion for the moment anyway. That still doesn’t mean that recycling or non-use are our only options. There’s still the burying it in landfill option to consider. We’ve no shortage of holes in the ground, plastics don’t pose a problem as they rot as they largely don’t. So, what are the costs and benefits here?

Don’t use plastics, do but recycle them, do and bury them once used. Which of these makes us richer - that being what we want to know, which has the greatest benefits as against the least costs?

After all, the idea that we dig up hydrocarbons, use them, then bury the hydrocarbons again isn’t exactly a grand rape of Gaia now, is it?