Thursday, September 15, 2011

From Oil To Plastic and Back Again

Packaging_Materials_oiltoplasticimage
It is easy to think about the utilization of finite resources as a linear process.  How do we reverse the destruction of natural capital and the inefficient allocation of the finite land base caused by urban sprawl? Well, there is Detroit, where the city is sprawling inwards as formerly developed lands are returning to their natural state (albeit not under favorable human welfare conditions). Similarly, once we convert finite petroleum resources to other products, how can we reclaim the product to extend the life of the finite petroleum resource base?  Yet this is exactly what one plant in Ohio is doing with plastic - providing a way for you to "refuel your car with old plastic trash." The plant, built in part by Vadxx Energy, plans to use a process called "thermal depolymerization" that can create a new domestic oil and natural gas supply of 80,000 barrels a year by converting old bottles from landfills.

Fortunately for landfills and those of us who care about the waste disposal problem facing the U.S. and the world in general, there has been an increase in investment into these types of projects. Once again demonstrating the complexity of attacking one environmental problem with a seemingly effective solution, however, plastics as fuel can give rise to other environmental issues. I often tell my class that for all of the problems associated with plastic, at least it does serve the purpose of sequestering carbon. Perhaps I can no longer say that, though I can be less concerned about landed disposal of plastic waste. Often in any environmental policy choice it seems we can't win without losing something - often forced to choose the lesser of two evils. But perhaps Michael Coren said it best, "as long as we're using oil, we might as well find ways to reuse it."

- Blake Hudson 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2011/09/from-oil-to-plastic-and-back-again.html

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