GRN Recycle Talk FAQ

Date: Tue Sep 09 1997 - 10:23:00 EDT

Date: Tue, 9 Sep 97 15:23 WET DST
Subject: Re: Plastics, Ecological benefits of (recycling)? (Chazz Button)

September 9, 1997

Dear Chazz Button,

There are many reasons for avoiding plastics
manufacture. I suggest that you must differentiate
among kinds of plastic to make your argument more
meaningful. To that end, you should get hold of the
following study:
 The Tellus Institute Packaging Study by Tellus
Institute, Boston, MA 617-426-5844. (11/91 and updates)

Basically, what it and similar documents by the Council of Northeast Governors
will tell you is that by far, vinyl (PVC) is the most
polluting plastic to manufacture, while HDPE and LDPE
are principally problemmatic only for their emissions
of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in manufacturing.

However, to answer a part of your question:

It takes 6,600 btus of process energy to manufacture a ton of
HDPE and that manufacture will produce 33.4 lbs of VOCs.

To manufacture a ton of LDPE, it takes 86 MMBtus and produces 51 lbs of vocs
To manufacture a ton of regular ethylene, 80 MM Btus
To manufacture a ton of polypropylene it requir3es 85 MM Btus, though this will be an average of 3 different manufacturing methods; Vocs are emitted, but so are particulates and nitrogen oxides
To manufacture a ton of PET, about 3100 Btus are needed, and Vocs are emitted
To manufacture a ton of polystyrene requires a lot of energy as well, and manufacture of a tone emits about 19 pounds of Vocs.

However, the principle environmental impact of plastics is that
they remain plastics in landfills, emit toxics to groundwater from their
colorants, labels, inks, etc. When incinerated, they produce toxic emissions of various kinds
as well as toxics in their ash.

-- Research Library for RCRA

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