26-Aug-2009 - Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)

Plastic waste: better to burn?

Burning plastic can give off less carbon dioxide than burying it, scientists claim in a Royal Society of Chemistry journal. Swedish scientists studied the CO2 produced when unrecyclable plastics are incinerated and the energy given off is recovered, compared with putting them into landfill.

The authors of the Energy and Environmental Science article, Ola Eriksson (University of Gävle, Sweden) and Göran Finnveden (Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden), initially disagreed on which of these methods of disposal would be lower in CO2 emissions.

Looking only at CO2 emissions, incineration of plastics produces a much greater amount of CO2 than landfill. However, in the special case when incineration is performed with high-efficiency energy recovery, it provides power normally generated by plants burning fossil fuels, and can produce less CO2 than would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere, making the overall process CO2-negative.

In Sweden, as in other European countries, the disposal of non-recyclable plastics in landfill is expensive and greatly discouraged, they prefer to incinerate it.

The researchers found the results surprising: “It showed we both were right,” said Eriksson.

These highly-efficient plastic incineration plants are not common throughout Europe and in most cases plastic incineration produces a high net emission of CO2.

Eriksson emphasises that they want European policy makers to think carefully about how they dispose of non-recyclable plastics. He wants them to “reconsider this policy to not put any plastic in landfill because, in some cases, it can be worth it,” he said.

Original article:Ola Eriksson, Energy Environ. Sci., 2009.

Facts, background information, dossiers
More about Royal Society of Chemistry
  • News

    New coating is self-defence for seeds

    Scientists in Switzerland have developed a protective coating for seeds that poisons pests with cyanide when they bite into it. The coating is a system of two layers and only becomes toxic when the layers are mixed, eliminating the problem of environmental contamination that is associated w ... more

    Using bacteria to make electrodes

    Scientists in France have produced hematite using a bacterial pathway for use as an electrode material in Li-ion technologies. Currently, most commercial electrode materials for Li-ion technologies are prepared using the ceramic method, which requires long heating periods at high temperatur ... more

    Marine plant replacement for platinum in solar cells

    An international research team has shown that that the power conversion efficiency of sea tangle extract is comparable to platinum in solar cell electrodes. Dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs) are quickly becoming a widespread and affordable alternative to photovoltaic solar cells. The electr ... more

  • Videos

    Royal Society of Chemistry – About us

    With more than 51,000 members and an international publishing and knowledge business we are the UK’s professional body for chemical scientists, supporting and representing our members and bringing together chemical scientists from all over the world. more

    A career in toxicology

    Hear from RSC member Vicki Stone talk about her role as a Nanotoxicologist. more

    When Food met Pharma: Delivery Strategies for Nutraceuticals

    With growing prevalence of lifestyle-associated diseases, including obesity, Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there is an urgent need and demand to try to prevent the onset of these diseases within our growing population. Nutraceuticals, along with appropriate diet and exercise, ... more

  • Companies

    Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)

    The RSC is a leading international publisher of highly regarded journals and books in the chemical sciences. The RSC is also the professional body for chemists with a global membership of over 46,000. more

More about Royal Institute of Technology