An Article from Explain that Stuff
by Chris Woodford
Humans are machines for turning the world into waste—at least that's how it seems. On average, every single person in the United States produces about 2kg (5lb) of trash per day, which adds to up three-quarters of a ton, per person, each year! What are we to do with all this junk? Recycling is one option, but not everyone does it and there are lots of things (such as electronic circuit boards) made from multiple materials that cannot be easily broken down and turned into new things. That's why much of our waste goes where it's always gone, buried beneath the ground. But we're running out of landfill space too—and that problem is bound to get worse. Another possibility is to incinerate waste, as though it were a fuel, and use it to produce energy, but incinerators are deeply unpopular with local communities because of the air pollution they can produce. A relatively new type of waste treatment called plasma arc recycling (sometimes referred to as "plasma recycling," "plasma gasification," "gas plasma waste treatment," "plasma waste recycling," and various other permutations of the words plasma, gas, arc, waste, and recycling) aims to change all this. It involves heating waste to super-high temperatures to produce gas that can be burned for energy and rocky solid waste that can be used for building. Supporters claim it's a cleaner, greener form of waste treatment, but opponents argue it's simply old-fashioned incineration dressed up in new clothes. What exactly does plasma recycling involve? Let's take a closer look!