Why is plastic to oil not a good thing?

When we throw our plastic into the recycling bin, we expect it to be converted into reusable material that can enter the marketplace. That's what recycling means, and that's what happens. Plastic is melted down, separated and made into new p

COMMENTARY

by Steve Parker

When we throw our plastic into the recycling bin, we expect it to be converted into reusable material that can enter the marketplace. That’s what recycling means, and that’s what happens. Plastic is melted down, separated and made into new plastic products which can in turn be recycled into new plastic products and so on.

The No. 1 plastic in your water or pop bottle can be made into a new bottle or similar container by companies able to make food-grade recycled plastic. It can also be turned into fleece jackets and other items of clothing. The important thing here is that the material returns to the marketplace. The fact is that plastic, with the addition of a small amount of new plastic, can be recycled indefinitely.

It’s actually good news that China implemented their “green fence” policy of rejecting shipments of recyclables deemed too contaminated. It allowed China to develop better environmental standards in the industry.

It also means that the North American market is sending China better product. Christina Seidel, of the Recycling Council of Alberta, says sorting plastics is very important because it increases the value and lowers the contamination rates. In B.C., the non-profit Multi Material BC is building a large plant with technology to sort the plastics easily and effectively. This plant will help ensure that Yukon products move to environmentally-friendly marketplaces.

There are reputable processors in places such as China and Vietnam. Many plastic items that are bought in North America are made in China and other Pacific Rim countries. If people want their cheap plastic items, then they have to allow the feedstock to be sent to the countries that make the products.

The question of transportation often gets raised when talking about recycling in a northern town. Having to ship plastics Outside for recycling does cost energy and emit carbon dioxide, but transportation and recycling of that product is only about 10 per cent of the energy used in creating a new product.

A plastic-to-oil machine almost seems too good to be true. And it is. A plastic-to-oil machine cannot take all plastics and sorting is also required. No. 1 and No. 3 plastics cannot be used in the machine, while No. 6 plastic will not produce oil. No. 7 plastic is often a mix and so may contain a plastic that cannot be used in the machine.

That leaves us with a number of plastic items that have to be dealt with by other means. No. 2 plastic can be used for plastic-to-oil, but it is a plastic that is has value on the market and can be easily recycled into new plastic containers. Why would we turn that into oil? Let’s face it, a lot of the plastics we have here can’t actually be used or are not worth being used for plastic-to-oil.

Fans of plastic-to-oil like to trumpet the fact that the process produces little carbon dioxide. However, they like to talk less about the emissions resulting from the burning of the oil.

And what about all that oil we bring into the Yukon? Yes, we do import oil to run our vehicles and heat our homes. We also don’t have enough of the right kind of plastic to replace most of that oil. So the best way to reduce oil imports is to reduce our use of oil. We can increase insulation, turn down our thermostats and start taking the bus. Converting plastic to oil will do little to decrease our carbon footprint.

Finally, there are still lots of questions about the process used with plastic-to-oil. Does the price quoted include the costs of a chipping machine, a washer, collection of feedstock and the employee wages to do all this work? What about dyes and other chemicals used in plastic manufacture? Are they still in the oil, ready to be released when it’s burned as fuel in your furnace?

Recycling plastics and other materials is a loop. Plastics to plastics, paper to paper: that’s how we save Earth’s resources. Plastic-to-oil is not upcycling, downcycling, bicycling or any other kind of cycling. It’s an open-ended system where we are unable to recover and reuse the material.

All in all, recycling is a better option. Plastics are kept in a loop and can circle around many times. Reuse and recycling is better than releasing heat and carbon dioxide into the air – two things this planet needs less of.

Steve Parker is the office coordinator for Raven Recycling. He lives in Whitehorse.

Just Posted

The Fireweed Market in Shipyards Park will open on May 13. Joel Krahn/Yukon News
Whitehorse’s Fireweed Market opens May 13

The Fireweed Market will return with ‘exciting’ new and returning vendors

Ron Rousseau holds a sign saying ‘It’s time for a cultural shift’ during the Yukoners: Raise Your Voice Against Misogyny rally on May 11. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Protest held to condemn Yukon Party MLAs’ texts

A rally was held outside of legislature to condemn the inappropriate texts messages of Yukon Party MLAs Stacey Hassard and Wade Istchenko.

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 12, 2021.… Continue reading

Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley announced youth vaccination clinics planned for this summer. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon government file)
Vaccination campaign planned for Yukon youth age 12 and up

The Pfizer vaccine was approved for younger people on May 5.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced two new cases of COVID-19 on May 11. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Two new cases of COVID-19 reported, one in the Yukon and one Outside

One person is self-isolating, the other will remain Outside until non-infectious

Neil Hartling, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon president, left, said the new self-isolation guidelines for the Yukon are a ‘ray of hope’ for tourism operators. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Yukon tourism operators prepared for ‘very poor summer’ even with relaxed border rules

Toursim industry responds to new guidelines allowing fully vaccinated individuals to skip mandatory self-isolation.

A lawsuit has been filed detailing the resignation of a former Yukon government mine engineer. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A year after resigning, former chief mine engineer sues Yukon government

Paul Christman alleges a hostile work environment and circumvention of his authority led him to quit

Former Liberal MLA Pauline Frost speaks to reporters outside the courthouse on April 19. One of the voters accused of casting an invalid vote has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuit Frost filed last month. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Voters named in Pauline Frost election lawsuit ask to join court proceedings

The judge granted Christopher Schafer intervenor status

Haley Ritchie/Yukon News file
File photo of the legislative assembly. The previous spring sitting began on March 4 but was interrupted due to the election.
Throne speech kicks off short spring legislature sitting

The government will now need to pass the budget.

The deceased man, found in Lake LaBerge in 2016, had on three layers of clothing, Dakato work boots, and had a sheathed knife on his belt. Photo courtesy Yukon RCMP
RCMP, Coroner’s Office seek public assistance in identifying a deceased man

The Yukon RCMP Historical Case Unit and the Yukon Coroner’s Office are looking for public help to identify a man who was found dead in Lake LaBerge in May 2016.

Yukon Zinc’s Wolverine minesite has created a mess left to taxpayers to clean up, Lewis Rifkind argues. This file shot shows the mine in 2009. (John Thompson/Yukon News file)
Editorial: The cost of the Wolverine minesite

Lewis Rifkind Special to the News The price of a decent wolverine… Continue reading

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: border opening and Yukon Party texts

Dear Premier Sandy Silver and Dr Hanley, Once again I’m disheartened and… Continue reading

Fire chief Jason Everett (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City launches emergency alert system

The city is calling on residents and visitors to register for Whitehorse Alert

Most Read