Do not let waste go to waste

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” goes the mantra and it sounds simple, doesn't it?. But, apparently, it’s not.

LandfillWaste management companies that operate recycling units find a great number of problems in the US, and not only there.

First of all it appears hard to get many cities and towns to embrace recycling and then it is difficult to get homeowners to figure out which plastics go into which bin.

In addition to that it is expensive to build out the infrastructure needed to separate materials, and ship them to customers. And, to make matters worse, recently the prices that buyers are willing to pay for cardboard, used paper, metals and plastics have fallen, on average, by about a third.

Those recyclables are treated as commodities and they are global in nature. When the French or Germans stop buying things, the Chinese stop making things, and when that happens, they need fewer boxes and the price of recovered paper in the US falls.

And it not only affects, obviously, recovered card and paper but also plastic recyclables. All of this, primarily, goes to China bundled to be processed there and if they don't want to buy it then the bottom falls out of the market.

But should it really be a market such as this? I think not. The materials should be reclaimed and processed into new products at home, thus creating real green jobs.

Councils in the UK provide a collection service for many, if not most, recyclables, and you don't even have to sort the plastics and glass, etc. They do it for us.

However, and here come my caveat, I have observed that there are times when the glass does not get separated properly, or not at all, by color and that means that it is useless bar for one purpose and that is for use in industries specifically created to deal with broken mixed glass where the glass will be ground down into building sand.

Bottles, as I have said time and again, should never be broken down (unless and until they are broken) and should be reused by the bottling industry. They are far too valuable to be broken up.

I have been observing that much of the recyclables, even though they are being collected meticulously by the councils from the homes and businesses, are actually landfilled.

This has two reasons for sure. One being that there are no storage facilities to await a rise in world commodity prices and the second being that often the materials collected have been contaminated in that the wrong items are in the bins (and this is especially the case for the large commercial collections).

It would appear that education is required on many levels when it comes to waste and recycling and how recyclables are being collected.

A lot of waste from households could and can be turned, with the right equipment and mindset, by councils (and enterprises) into valuable products, and that without ever leaving the country. This creates jobs and products for sale.

One opportunity, done by many already, is the processing of organic waste (food, yard waste, etc.) to make soil, mulch, organic fertilizer and also renewable energy.

Difficult-to-recycle waste plastics can be turned into crude oil, essentially reclaiming the hydrocarbons used to make the plastic. Waste can also be converted into ethanol and renewable chemicals, and there are some companies which turn household garbage into transportation fuels.

If we want to tackle our waste problem when we must look at waste with different spectacle and we must also stop exporting the stuff to places such as China and elsewhere.

We must bite the bullet and do the reprocessing at home for it creates jobs and much lower footprint as far as the transportation of the goods back to the consumer is concerned.

But we must also manage waste in such as way that all those things than could actually be reused – and I am not talking here about reuse at home, as I normally do – such a bottles and glass jars going back to be refilled.

© 2012