I burn plastic. There I've said it ... it wasn't that hard; in fact, I feel better already.

In certain circles burning plastic is not something to confess to. I've been known to get badly told off at some campfires for throwing on a piece of glad wrap, when any chemist will tell you that polythene is one of the cleanest burning fuels there is.

Burning plastic all started when we lived on the riverbank in Gonville, Whanganui.

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On almost every tide a piece of floating plastic, on its journey to the sea, would wash up on our little beach.

Doing the right thing for the environment meant collecting the plastic. Generally there are two tides every day and soon I would have a small pile of drinks bottles and other odd items made of plastic.

Back in the 1980s, I dutifully sorted it for recycling but mostly it was full of mud and sand and had to go to landfill.

After a decade I tired of picking up everyone else's crap, and to make life easy for myself, I would make a fire out of bits of driftwood and when I got a teepee of small sticks flaming I would feed on the plastic.

Burning it with wood seemed to help with the smell.

Plastic is made from fossil fuels and it burns hot once you get it going.

Once, in the country, I burned an entire fibreglass yacht on a bonfire but that's another story. Needless to say, the regional council policy for the disposal of fibreglass yachts is to send them to the landfill.

Around that time I found myself involved with an old-fashioned timbermill which, I learned, meant getting involved with managing waste including mountains of sawdust.


I used to brainstorm ways of turning sawdust from a liability into an asset. Instead of it costing to be trucked away and dumped could sawdust be turned into fuel and maybe used to generate heat or even electricity?

Now sawdust is not easy to burn but if it was dried and mixed with some other more volatile waste, such as plastic, and was blown into a furnace, maybe it could be used to create steam and generate electricity.

Electricity production could even be coordinated with the spot electricity price market, maybe burned on a cold night in the winter, or during a storm when the foul smell could blow away.

It probably wouldn't get a "discharge to air" resource consent, I reasoned, and my sawdust management pipedream never made it to the feasibility-study stage.

Now that China is not taking our plastic, maybe there is a market in burning plastic here.

In the Netherlands, and some other countries, they have systems for burning rubbish and the trams of Amsterdam are reputedly powered by electricity generated by burning rubbish, including plastic. Maybe I should patent the idea of "eco-burning" plastic with sawdust.

I will be 70 this year, so I come from an age before plastic. Polythene had yet to arrive; meat came wrapped in paper and string; bread was in waxed paper or unwrapped; milk came in returnable bottles; and beer in large refillable flagons.

In a bit over half-a-century we have been swamped in plastic — a byproduct of the petroleum industry — and it wraps everything and is everywhere.

A couple of summers ago we took our caravan for a tour of Northland. At the high watermark on every beach on the west coast there was a tide line of little bits of broken plastic.

Once you knew what to look for, it became obvious that the few pieces I'd intercepted in the Whanganui river hadn't had much impact.

I'm a bit of a sceptic of the "climate change" carbon emissions discourse — what's a few degrees here or there? I'd rather burn plastic and release a bit of carbon than see it in the sea or taking up space in a landfill.

Single use supermarket bags are a just a small part of the plastic stream and the best thing you can do with them is burn them — though it is even better if you do not use them at all.

*When Fred Frederikse is not building, he is a self-directed student of geography and traveller, and in his spare time he is the co-chair of the Whanganui Musicians Club.