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Plastics in the environment: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Have you recently had the opportunity to debate with someone, your teenage children perhaps, the issue of solid waste disposal and the role of plastics in solid waste disposal solutions? It would be my guess that the experience was at least challenging. My personal experience is based on having some knowledge and realizing there is a lot that I do not understand.

The paramount objective is to protect the environment for future generations. It seems clear that there has to be a common basis for environmentalists, educators, industrialists, legislators, and the general public to reach that objective. The common basis is going to be found through gathering knowledge from these factions. The basis of knowledge is understanding the past (yesterday), understanding the present (today), and understanding the possibilities of the future (tomorrow). Knowledge of the past will tell us of the mistakes and the successes; knowledge of the present will define the base from which we have to change; and knowledge of the possibilities of the future will define the corrective actions to be taken.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has detailed four scenarios for dealing with solid waste. The first is source reduction; the second is recycling; the third is incineration; and the fourth is landfill. It should be noted that plastics has been a champion of source reduction versus alternative materials. Regarding recycling plastics, the industry must make major improvements in educating plastics and nonplastics professionals; the question is how. Incineration is a natural for plastics, because the source of all plastics is energy. Finally, in landfills (society's answer to solid waste problems since the beginning of time), plastics play a primary role in the technology of landfill containment and sterilization. Degradability is the most misunderstood and misused solution for coping with solid waste. Yet degradability probably has a place as an alternate solution for reducing yard wastes from our landfills. For example, a degradable plastic bag could be a benefit to a municipal-compost system. And, perhaps, the most significant solution is the changing of our personal habits. The way we handle the disposal of personal waste will have to change. The days of "out of sight, out of mind" are coming to an end. The problem is, how do we change?

ANTEC 1990 in Dallas, Texas, is dedicating Thursday afternoon, May 10, and Friday morning, May 11, to increasing our knowledge of plastics' role in the issue of solid-waste disposal and our understanding of how and what we must change. SPI's Council for Solid Waste Solutions (CSWS) has agreed to participate in the two half-day programs. Jean Statler, from the CSWS, and Norman Lee, from Zarn, Inc., and SPE have developed an excellent program. Keep in mind that this program is in addition to the full complement of technical sessions to be held Monday through Thursday. The focus of Tuesday's management involvement program is feedstocks.

The General Operating Committee has worked very hard to make this an outstanding ANTEC. The activities begin Sunday night and end at noon on Friday. For those of you who have not experienced Texas hospitality, you are in for a treat; and for those of you who have experienced Texas hospitality, the 1990 ANTEC will be more of the same.
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Author:Brackeen, James H.
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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