Why Burning Plastic Is NOT The Solution To Our Plastic Problem

We all know how plastics are the worst polluters of the environment. They choke our lakes, rivers, and oceans. They clog our drains. They litter our parks and campgrounds. They poison marine and wildlife. They leach toxic chemicals into our bodies. And the really bad thing about them is that they last forever.  

But you know what could be even worse than using plastics? Burning them. 

Although the challenge of eliminating millions of tons of plastic every year seems staggering, burning or incinerating them seems to be a quick and easy solution to some people. 

It may be a solution, but it’s a bad one. Here’s why. 

  1. It’s a danger to human health. When you burn plastic, it releases dangerous substances, like heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and other toxins, into the air and in the ash residue. These pollutants can lead to asthma, cancer, and all sorts of other diseases. 
  2. The new technology is prone to failure.The new incinerator technologies like gasification, pyrolysis and plasma arc, which claim to heat the plastic and transform them into oil or energy, have failed repeatedly in several countries. 
  3.  It negatively affects the climate and oceans. When you burn plastic it releases climate pollution. This leads to rising sea levels,  increased ocean and air toxicity and the destruction of coral reefs and marine life.
  4. It promotes environmental injustice. Incinerators are a massive burden to the community where they are built. These communities will bear the brunt of air pollution and toxic ash. They will be first-hand victims and will always be exposed to clear and present danger. 
  5. Lack of means.Many countries still resort to smaller scale and cheaper methods of burning plastic.  This raises many disturbing questions. What type of pollution filtration is provided? What happens to the filtered toxins? Are sites monitored for emissions? 

          There are a lot of alternatives to burning plastic -  the zero-waste model, segregating and processing waste at a community level, composting, recycling and waste reduction are smarter, safer and less expensive than using an incinerator. 

          Or better yet, why not just stop using plastic altogether?  Because if you can’t manage the problem, the best thing to do is to prevent it in the first place.