Eli5: Grinding up Waste

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There was a post exactly like this 7 years ago that was archived. Plastics, organic matter, metals they were all taken from the earth. There’s already technology for almost all complicated things. Why not for absolute zero waste? Like the problem with plastics is the decomposition rate, why not hasten the decomposition by grinding them up to powder so that they can be mixed with soil. Instead of ugly and dangerous dumpsites like mountains of trash.

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The main feature of plastics is also what makes them so harmful. Plastic polymers are chemically resilient.

Grinding up plastic into smaller pieces does not cause it to break down chemically. It only makes the pieces smaller (we call these microplastics). The problem is that when the particles are small enough, microplastic particles interfere with the physiological processes of both plants and animals. In the case of plastics, “out of site, out of mind” is just about the worst possible approach to mitigating their effect on the natural environment.

Yes, plastics were taken from the earth, but it is chemically very different from the separate elements it’s made of.

It’s probably gonna be easier to understand like this – water is made of hydrogen and oxygen, two common gases that are chemically bound together to create the liquid we all know. But, when you spray your face with a fine mish with water, you still get wet because the hydrogen and oxygen don’t separate when you just make the water particles smaller. Same with plastics, they are toxic when they’re in their plastic form and grinding them up doesn’t make them any less toxic.

Grinding them up actually makes things worse, because the plastic still doesn’t break down. So you’re left with the same amount of garbage plastic as before, but now in a powdery format that can spread and get into the water, the plants, the animals, and the food. We’re already discovering that small plastic particles are a health hazard that’s really messing up the environment (search “microplastics”). Making more of them on purpose is a bad strategy compared to keeping the bigger plastic pieces sequestered more safely in a landfill.

we want to put the waste back put how do we do that without damaging stuff? If you could put all the waste back to where it came from literally, i think that could work for some metals probably. the problem is getting it back and storing it in the meantime and sorting all the different waste metals from all the different products.

some of the waste are results of complex chemical processes meaning the waste is completely alien to the earth systems for breaking down stuff. No matter where we dump it, or spread it around, it will disrupt natural chemical processes at that location. So we have do to more processing to change the waste back to something we can safely dumb or otherwise return to the soil/atmosphere.

I mean if all our waste was decomposable we would not have a problem. we take stuff from the soil and change it up much that the earth cant put it back together the way it used to be on its own.