After all those scary stories about microplastics (I think you don't need references on that one), I was surprised to discover plastic solutions being suggested, even promoted you can say, in environmental publications. Take this, for example. It praises polyethylene mulch! It sounded crazy to me, to apply plastic to soil on purpose. How is it a good idea, with microplastics getting into groundwater and so on (even with the fact that it keeps water from evaporating from soil better than organic alternatives)?

Then we have this thing called tire-derived aggregate, or TDA. I know about the environmental toll of sand extraction (TDA is supposed to be substituted for sand), but it can't be right that shredded tires spread over land is a green, sustainable alternative. Again, I suppose, it will degrade into microplastics and wreak colossal damage if this becomes a widespread practice. California's bluest greenest government doesn't seem to agree, mentioning some studies.

Even reusable plastic bags, if you think about it, will end up, sooner or later, in a landfill (that said, I personally do use reusable plastic bags sometimes). I know plastics emit relatively low quantities of GHG during the production phase (compared to paper bags, for instance), but you should consider the entire life cycle, right? So I wound up wondering, can plastics be sustainable after all (including its application to soil, in one form or another)?

  • Part of the answer lies in the quality of recycling systems for plastics. Regions with high populations will have better potential for quality recycling systems simply on the basis of scale of throughput will reduce the costs associated with operating the recycling systems.
    – Fred
    Jul 25, 2021 at 4:56
  • It's not difficult to make plastic from strong sugars. The trick is to make plastic from affordable weak sugars like wood chips. But the plan was for the plastic to be easily biodegradable but they changed their mind because the food industry wanted safer shelf life. Now the plastic will be biodegradable but not easily biodegradable. The source for this is the company history of Avantium. Now renewable electricity can be combined with captured carbon-dioxide and with catalysts to make carbon-neutral plastics. The source for this is RenewCo2.
    – S Spring
    Jul 25, 2021 at 13:21
  • You might be interested in this from the BBC, The fungus and bacteria tackling plastic waste.
    – Fred
    Jul 30, 2021 at 5:32
  • 3
    I've had this question open for weeks, as I would really like to provide an answer. I worked with plastics in my master thesis and have become opinionated about it (obviously based on the research I read, but what's objectivity anyway?!). The short answer is: no. Whenever you can use some kind of rock, wood, mineral, glass, or degradable material (for which you don't have to ask whether it is or isn't), use that instead. Don't color it, as there are plastics in colors, or use natural pigments, y'know. If a material has the properties and the durability of a plastic, it's probably just as bad.
    – thymaro
    Jan 11 at 16:43
  • @thymaro - Oh, please do expand that into a proper answer :)
    – Robotnik
    May 18 at 11:11

1 Answer 1


ALL plastic is recycleable, it's quality concerns. The problem with plastic is it's extremely low value. We knew that 50 years ago, that's why plastic became the dominant packaging/container medium because it's sterile, non-biodegradable and very cheap. But re-collecting that plastic that's been distributed is a nightmare. A 20 fl oz plastic bottle empty weighs 23.8 grams An empty glass bottle weighs 8 oz or more. Glass weighs 10x more than plastic.

IN ALL manufacturing there's resources and materials involved. Plastic, even waste plastic has uses. Thermal depolymerization is an industrial process where polymers, even complex ones can be converted to monomers/mixture of. This can be powered by renewables/various clean energy

  • This doesn't target the main concern of microplastics.
    – Erik
    Jul 26, 2021 at 9:02
  • Recycling Bakelite is particularly challenging.
    – Fred
    Dec 22, 2021 at 16:27

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