One of the useful properties of polymers is that they are unreactive, so they are suitable for storing food and chemicals safely. Unfortunately, this property makes it difficult to dispose of polymers. They are often buried in landfill sites or incinerated - burned.
Waste polymers are disposed of in landfill sites. This uses up valuable land, and suitable sites often fill up quickly.
Polymers release a lot of heat energy when they burn. This energy can be used to heat homes or generate electricity. But there are problems with incineration. Carbon dioxide is produced, which adds to global warming. Toxic gases are also produced, unless the polymers are incinerated at high temperatures.
Many polymers can be recycled. This reduces disposal problems and the amount of crude oil used. But first the different polymers must be separated from each other. This can be difficult and expensive.
Most polymers, including poly(ethene) and poly(propene), are not biodegradable. This means microorganisms cannot break them down, so they may last for many years in rubbish dumps. However, it is possible to include chemicals that cause the polymer to break down more quickly. Carrier bags and refuse bags made from degradable polymers are already available.
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