"If you thought those flimsy disposable plastic grocery bags represented
most of our plastic waste problem, think again. The volume of plastic
the world throws away every year could rebuild the Ming Dynasty’s Great
Wall of China – about 3,700 miles long.
In the six decades that plastic has been manufactured for commercial
uses, more than 8.3 billion metric tons have been produced. Plastics are
light, versatile, cheap and nearly indestructible (as long as they don’t
get too hot). These properties make them incredibly useful in an
enormous range of applications that includes sterile food packaging,
energy-efficient transportation, textiles and medical protective gear.
But their indestructible nature comes at a cost. Most of them decompose
extremely slowly in the environment – on the order of several hundred
years – where they are creating a global epidemic of plastic trash. Its
consequences for human and ecosystem health are still incompletely
known, but are potentially momentous.
I am a chemist with experience in designing processes for making
plastics, and I became interested in using plastic as a large, untapped
resource for energy and materials. I wondered if we could turn plastic
waste into something more valuable to keep it out of landfills and the
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics