The use of plastics and rubber in products, packaging, homes, workplaces, cars and, in fact, just about everywhere has increased hugely over the last few decades and, whether it occurs deliberately or accidentally, many of these items still end their lifetime through being burned. However, both the polymers themselves and the chemicals used in their production have the potential to produce unpleasant gases during the combustion process.
Polymers that are used in short-term applications, for example product packaging, are often selected due to their cost-effective nature but these products, of which polystyrene is a prime example, often give off a considerable quantity of toxic smoke during burning. This is increasingly becoming an issue due to the quantities of material that are thrown away. If they are hard to recycle in the traditional sense, i.e. the material is directly re-used, then materials should be considered for ‘recycling’ in the sense of energy production through combustion. This is not practical for materials that produce toxic gases, due to the significant impact this may have on the environment.
Polymers used in more long terms applications are generally selected with some consideration of the hazards. The impact of an accidental fire in a house or workplace could be made substantially worse by highly combustible plastics either in the structure itself or as part of the contents. Whatever the application the products of combustion should be taken into consideration - this is an issue of increasing importance.
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