Polymer Waste Management

Increasing volumes of synthetic polymers are manufactured for various applications. The disposal of the used materials is becoming a serious problem. Unlike natural polymers, most synthetic macromolecules cannot be assimilated by microorganisms. Although polymers represent slightly over 10% of total municipal waste, the problem of nonbiodegradability is highlighted by overflowing landfills, polluted marine waters, and unsightly litter. Existing government regulations in Europe and anticipated regulations in the United States will greatly limit the use of polymers in large volume applications (packaging, water treatment, paper and textile sizing, etc.) unless acceptable means of waste management are available. Total management of polymer wastes requires complementary combinations of biodegradation, incineration, and recycling. Biodegradation is the most desirable long-term future solution and requires intensive research and development before it becomes practical. On the other hand, incineration and recycling can become operational in a relatively short time for the improvement of the situation at present and in the near future.

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