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Continent of Plastics

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The Continent of Plastics
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A Whole Continent of Plastics 11-8- 2010

  • May 3, 2011
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By Dr. Joseph S. Maresca

There is a zone between California and Asia which has a patch of plastics and other garbage the size of the United States or larger. Our challenge during this century is to decide how to recycle this mess and stop the accumulation from getting even larger. The various remedies are discussed in the body of this article. The author believes that we can clean up this mess utilizing existing patents in the chemical composition arts, as well as other remedies. Ocean dumping was finally banned by the Ocean Dumping Reform Act of 1988.

The recycling of plastics is a high priority since the world population will grow to 9 billion people by 2050.

There has been much success with plastic soda bottle recycling as evidenced by the recycle machinery in virtually every food store. Customers line up with bags of plastic bottles in exchange for a nickel credit per bottle. These recycling processes need to continue and expand into industrial plastics, polymers and other inorganic chemical materials. Generally, organic materials are the stuff of every living thing on this earth. Inorganic materials are manufactured in a lab. The production of inorganic materials creates the greatest problem in decomposing and disposing of the residuals.

Virtually all ocean dumping that occurs today is dredged material - sediments removed from the bottom of water bodies in order to maintain navigation channels. The Corps of Engineers issues permits for ocean dumping of dredged material, the bulk of which results from maintenance dredging by the Corps itself or its contractors.

According to EPA, more than 400 million cubic yards of sediment is dredged annually from U.S. waterways, and each year approximately 60 million cubic yards of this material is disposed of in the ocean at designated sites. Before sediments can be permitted to be dumped in the ocean, they are evaluated to ensure that the dumping will not cause significant harmful effects to human health or the marine environment.

EPA is responsible for developing criteria to ensure that the ocean disposal of dredge spoils does not cause environmental harm. Permits for ocean disposal of dredged material are to be based on the same criteria utilized by EPA under other provisions of the act, and to the extent possible, EPA-recommended dumping sites are used. Where the only feasible disposition of dredged material would violate the dumping criteria, the Corps can request an EPA waiver. Amendments enacted in 1992 expanded EPA’s role in permitting of dredged material by authorizing EPA to impose permit conditions or even deny a permit, if necessary to prevent environmental problems.  (1)

EPA has had a modicum of success with limiting the toxins poured into the continental waters of the United States. The more practical problem is the mound of plastics and outright garbage in a continental patch which stretches from California to Japan. This material just sits in the water and impacts plant and animal life for miles under the sea.

Ocean dumping involves non-biodegradable plastics, bottles, oil rig matter and industrial waste/pollutants which find their way into the oceans over the passage of time.

It's hard to know what to do about it. Plastic doesn't biodegrade and ends up just breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. This plastic dust now greatly outnumbers plankton found in the area and causes massive damage to sea life when they eat it. On top of the microscopic pieces of plastic, the water is also filled with shopping bags, old flip flops, soda bottles and discarded fishing equipment.

How do you clean up something on that scale? We can't, at least with current technology.  (2)

Thermal depolymerization (TDP) or non-biodegradable plastic waste will convert low-value plastic wastes to a higher order or refinable crude oil with separable gas components. A process being commercialized by Vadose Research & Development LLC of Akron, Ohio consumes a variety of organic wastes including a number of non-standardized and contaminated resins recovered from industrial and municipal solid waste streams. These waste streams include plastics and other inorganic chemical materials that have no other market today except for utilization in landfills.

Crude oil produced by the Vadose process is olefinic, containing valuable petrochemical fractions. An olefin is an unsaturated or open-chain hydrocarbon containing at least one double bond, chemically speaking. Classically, the olefin belongs to a collection of long-chain synthetic polymers like ethylene or propylene used in textile fibers or cordage. (3)

The remaining fraction (balance) of this oil is upgradable and can be refined using traditional processes of upgrading and refining crude oil produced from existing wells.  In the meantime, an alternate solution would be to invest in an infrastructure which facilitates recycling.

Practically speaking, the technology must facilitate ease of curb disposal for recyclables, recycling centers, and financial compensation for recycled waste. The aluminum can industry has done an excellent job of using post consumer recycled cans for their main production and this model should be expanded to include various types of plastics and inorganics as well.

Gas produced by this process is separable into pipeline-quality natural gas and larger molecules. Separation is accomplished using standard technology employed in traditional natural gas fields. The fraction of gas not sold into the pipeline network contains additional recoverable petrochemicals and high-BTU gas with process value.

Major concerns about TDP include the unintended creation of air pollutants ranging from carbon dioxide to dioxins. Any successful commercial TDP process must incorporate the solution to this potential problem into the core business model. Vadose has learned how to avoid this undesirable and unintended result via process and raw material controls.  TDP- Thermal-depolymerization  

Plastic may be used for building in the 3rd world.   Plastics that cannot be burned could be heated and moulded into bricks, very much like lego toys. This new use would result in less plastic waste and more housing materials . This chemical process technology deserves attention and investors should begin looking to commercialize inventions that accomplish re-use tasks. One such invention is the plastic brick with high surface hardness. The patent abstract is reproduced below.


A plastic brick with a high surface hardness is mainly includes a bottom layer that is a semi-finished plastic brick, and a protecting layer composed of a UV cured resin layer uniformly spread with a rigid material. With the rigid material combined in the UV cured resin layer, the plastic brick can obtain a hard surface with excellent resistance to abrasion and compression.  


Investment in Plastic Recovery Technology

As the statement of the problem clearly indicates, one of the difficulties inherent in the reuse of plastic waste is the continued production of plastic. While sporadic recycling efforts help, we need to institutionalize the process and develop cottage industries to continue this new re-use technology at an increasing rate far into the future.

The production of plastic bricks is described in the above patent. There are a plethora of uses for plastic bricks in housing, industrial wall construction, man-made islands and applications yet to be conceived. The use of plastics continues to benefit the auto industry. Lighter cars are easier to navigate and cheaper to run.

Ultimately, the United Nations must embrace a tougher international protocol for plastics disposal, clean-up and re-use. The current protocols don't seem to be working given the enormity of the growing problem in the Pacific Ocean. (5)


(1) http://www.eoearth.org/article/Ocean_Dumping_Act,_United_States

(2) The 8th Continent-Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch  , Mother Nature Network


(3) Vadose Research & Development, LLC

will manufacture synthetic crude oil, gas and activated carbon using selected organic wastes as raw materials, including scrap tires and waste automotive/industrial oils. Vadose’s patented process of thermal depolymerization (TDP) uses heat to break down mixtures of waste polymer solids and heavy oils to yield light synthetic crude oil which will, in turn, be used by petroleum refiners to make gasoline, diesel fuel, home heating oils, lubricants and petrochemicals.


(4)  Plastic Brick:  United States Patent  20090117368


(5) http://www.un.org/Depts/los/consultative_pro...documents/6_sheavly.pdf

Joseph S. Maresca Ph.D., CPA, CISA, MBA: His significant writings include over 10 copyrights in the name of the author (Joseph S. Maresca) and a patent in the earthquake sciences. He holds membership in the prestigious Delta Mu Delta National Honor Society and Sigma Beta Delta International Honor Society.  In addition, he blogs and reviews many books for Basil & Spice. Visit the Joseph S. Maresca Writer's Page.

A Whole Continent of Plastics 11-8- 2010

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June 28, 2011
I believe that a technology to crush the material and reconstitute it to bricks may be the way to go. First, the plastics must be collected, processed, reprocessed and then ground through a work in process until a finished product. Essentially, this is the cost accounting/accumulation process in manufacturing.
June 27, 2011
The elimination of plastics in favor of reusable or biodegradable materials is one of the best ways you can go green. I have read about the amount of plastic in the oceans and it is astonishing to ponder and realize that there is no technology that can clean it up.
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