How to Manage Plastic Waste


Disposing of plastic waste is trickier than dealing with other traditional landfill material. Not only does plastic take thousands of years to break down, it can leach dangerous poison into the environment. Plastic is not going away, but how plastic waste is managed is becoming more sophisticated. Managing plastic waste starts at home with the consumer, but ultimately depends on governments around the world as well.

Managing Plastic Waste

  • Separating plastic products and recycling them at home reduces the amount that governments must manage. Recycled plastics can be used for roads, benches, bottles and more. Buying products that contain recycled plastics also helps with plastic waste management. Called "source reduction," the idea is to reduce the amount of plastic waste that has to be managed by simply reducing the plastic to begin with.

  • Using degradable plastics is an option the U.S. government is studying to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into landfills. The government is studying whether these plastics would break down faster and cleaner than traditional plastics. Other options include using corn or other vegetable-based plastics in place of traditional plastics. These plastics break down much more quickly in landfills.

  • Burning plastic in an incinerator is a controversial way to manage plastic waste. While incineration does eliminate the volume of plastic, harmful pollutants are sometimes released into the atmosphere. Improved technology is, however, reducing the environmental impact and many countries are using incineration as an option for plastic waste management.

  • Using a traditional landfill to manage plastic waste is still the most common way to dispose of plastic. But new technology is improving the safety of landfills and lessening the environmental impact. Using layers and different linings can help to reduce the order and impact to nearby communities. Carefully containing landfill material also helps protect the environment.

Tips & Warnings

  • * Be sure the plastic you are recycling is approved by your local department of waste management.
  • * Prepare recyclable plastics by rinsing the containers and removing caps.
  • * Crush the plastic to be recycled when possible.
  • * Reuse plastic containers when possible.
  • * Buy recycled plastic products.

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