I first heard about TDP (Thermal depolymerization process) in 2002. At the time, I was excited by a process whereby waste, be it computers, animal manure, dead bodies, or syringes, can be turned into oil, water and gas. TDP is the technological curative we’ve been waiting for, I thought. It doesn’t address the problem of nuclear waste disposal, but it will certainly help us decide where to put our household trash.
Now, with two active plants proving that the process works, I’m no longer as eager a cheerleader. When I first learned about TDP, I neglected to consider two details, one minor, one major.
1) If the process proves effective and becomes widely used, trash itself will become a commodity. Savvy municipal waste managers will profit from sales of their waste to TDP companies. This isn't a serious concern, but there is something inherently depressing about trash bidding wars.
2) Because oil and gas are the two principal outputs of the TDP, society and, in turn, the federal government are less likely to transition away from fossil fuels.
Ideally, we can have the best of both worlds. If TDP takes off, our trash will have a valuable purpose. Also, the oil produced via TDP can be used for plastics rather than internal combustion engines.
But how often do we environmentalists see our ideology made manifest?