Recent research literature shows an alternative "greener" pathway to achieve the same using hydrogen peroxide as the oxidizing agent and zeolite infused with tin as the catalyst. The reaction products in this case will be the lactone and water. When adapted for commercial production, this pathway could represent a potent pollution prevention strategy for prepolymer production industries.
A 1990 EPA study on five key air pollutant emissions (CO, SOx, NOx, hydrocarbons, and particulates) showed the industrial sector accounted for 66.6 million tons of emissions per year, compared to 90.5 million tons by the transportation sector and 45.9 million tons by heating. It is difficult to estimate the fraction of the industrial emissions attributable to the polymer industry. Assuming the burning of fossil fuels to be the primary source of these pollutants, an approximate estimate might be made by adjusting the emission load by the ratio of energy consumed by the plastics industry to the total energy used in the United States . This yields an estimate of only about 1% of the total emissions attributable to plastics industry and even this is likely to be an overestimate because the industry generally relies more on cleaner-burning natural gas than on petroleum fuels.
As with the depletion of nonrenewable resources by the polymer industry, the levels of pollution generated by the industry must be weighed against the benefits of the polymeric products to society. Some of these products could indirectly reduce the impacts of pollution in a different application or save large amounts of resources in yet other applications. (For instance, the use of polymer-based filtration systems and membrane separators can purify the effluent industrial gas streams, recycling useful products from the waste gas. A cellulose acetate fiber filter in cigarettes can reduce particulate and tar inhalation with very significant cost savings in the healthcare sector.)
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