ChE in Context: The Plastics Circular Economy | AIChE

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ChE in Context: The Plastics Circular Economy

The ChE in Context

You may have seen the National Geographic video series “The Story of Plastic” or read the Rolling Stone article “Planet Plastic,” both of which cover plastic pollution, an expanding global issue. Even if plastics end up in landfills, they can take more than 100 years to degrade. Many plastics find their way into the environment, ultimately polluting rivers and oceans. A new amphipod species discovered in the Mariana Trench was recently named Eurythenes plasticus due to the glut of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in its body.

Despite the long history of plastic manufacturing and widespread consumer use, there is no substantial capture and recovery system for waste plastic. As a result, plastic has infiltrated nearly every facet of the ecosystem. In the U.S., plastic manufacturing and its upstream ethane feedstock sources are regulated according to federal environmental laws. However, plastic waste in the environment generally meets the definition of solid waste as specified by the Solid Waste Disposal Act, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delegates to state authorities.

Plastics disposal thus becomes a matter of state and local law. The Trash-Free Waters program under the Clean Water Act is one small way the federal government is addressing waste plastics, but generally, plastic waste is not otherwise...

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