The municipal recycling sham

...or maybe we should call it the municipal recycling shame

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many of us, households and businesses alike, nicely separate our recyclables for collection, to the extent even of removing labels and washing tin cans and glass jars, but do those recyclables really go for recycling?

My observations are leading me to believe that in a great many cases it is all but a sham because general waste trucks often collect also the recyclables from clearly marked bins and add it to their contents, destined for the landfill, and also the recycling trucks have been seen, rather regularly, dumping their content at landfill sites.

While we, as consumers, whether that be households or businesses, are trying to do our part the municipalities and their contractors, where contractors are being used, just put the stuff with the general waste that ends up in landfill.

This is not how it is supposed to work and neither, but that is not really the story here, should our recyclables go into containers to be shipped to places such as Mexico, many of which have no recycling infrastructure, and, as in the cases recorded in Mexico, being carted from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast where the contents then was literally tipped into the sea. Is it any wonder we have the large plastic garbage patches in the oceans?

The problem the industrialized nations are currently faced with concerning waste for recycling is that many developing nations such as China, Vietnam, India and others have shut their ports to imports of our waste for reprocessing. And, as most of those nations, the industrialized developed ones, are not prepared to do the dirty work in their own countries the stuff either gets shipped to other countries where it is just dumped, often into the sea.

When it comes to plastic recyclables, be it bottles or others, we are, whether this is the UK or any other country, wasting a valuable resource by sending the stuff to somewhere to be reprocessed, or destroyed (dumped) rather than having our own national facilities where such materials are reprocessed back into polymers for the plastics industry.

When it comes to glass, even when collected by recycling trucks and, actually, sent to recycling it is not recycling but downcycling because no one can tell me that from the mixed glass – because nowadays all the stuff that we may have separated by color is tossed into one vat – new bottles or jars or whatever are being made. The truth is that this glass gets ground down to make road aggregate. In other words it is being made into almost nothing more than sand.

While, as indicated above, aside from the fact that we should, actually, get rid of plastic bottles and other plastic packaging as much as possible, plastic waste should be recycled at home and unbroken glass bottles and even jars should be returned to whence the came to be sterilized and then reused. Only glass which has been broken should ever go to recycling and, then again, the recycling should be done properly and at home. With “at home” is meant in the home country and not in our individual homes, obviously.

When it comes to drinks bottles, glass ones, be it lemonade, beer, wine, or whatever else, they should come, to give a financial incentive for the bottles to go back into the reuse stream, with a small deposit that is refundable upon return, the way things once were. It is not rocket science, even though the governments, in the UK especially, try to pretend. It does not need to have pilot projects and studies as to whether it would work. We had this system, and many other countries did too, and it worked and works. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Alas in the UK and the USA everything is geared towards profit for some, even in this field, and hence they want the recyclable for nothing and then try to sell the stuff to reprocessors. If, however, there is not enough money to be made from the sale of the “raw material” then they rather have it go into landfill than for recycling. This way the demand from the reprocessors increases as then will the price. We can safely file that under greenwash than actual concern for reducing and recycling waste.

© 2021

The repair economy

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I know this may sound a little strange and I am not talking about repairing the economy, for we need to change it not repair it, because it is not broken; it was designed that way.

The repair economy is something that we once, actually, had in the form of little workshops that were geared to repairing this and that, from shoes and clothes to radios, TVs, bicycles, and much more.

In the German Democratic Republic, that some people called and still insist in calling East Germany, or communist East Germany even, literally a whole sector of the economy was geared to repair. Not because things broke down easily for lack of quality – rather the opposite, things were designed to last – but because things were repairable and repair was a great deal cheaper than buying new. It was thus also, though repair shops and such were no officially counted as part of the economy, in other countries, including Britain, the USA, and elsewhere.

Nowadays, however, most of those repair shops – at least in the UK – are no longer with the exception of the high street shoe repair places who can just about glue a heel or a sole on but that is about all. Ask them to resew an upper to a leather midsole and they are utterly confused and lost (“I don't have a machine for that,” I was told).

But you will very rarely, if indeed, find the little shop where there will be a guy sitting there with a soldering iron fixing electrical goods, because most of those goods today either cannot be repaired, as they have been designed not to be repairable, or it is more expensive to have them repaired than to buy the same product new again. When a spare part for a computer printer, for instance, costs itself more than a new printer then we really have to question on what principle the economy is working. That is how we register economic growth. Oh, but I am digressing.

We must get back, though, to products that are made to last, that can be repaired and to the repair economy, the small and not so small businesses that specialize in repair. In addition to that we need the small makers back as well, but that is a different story.

But the way this is being promoted by some at the present, much like the so-called circular economy, is not going to deliver the real needs of this kind of economy because all too often the need for products that are made to truly last in the way they were once made is still not properly part of the equation. We must rethink our approach on many level and travel back to the future, so to speak.

We are still, in most talk about any kind of economy, fixated way too much on growth. Growth, the way our economy promoted it, an infinite one, is simply not possible on a finite Planet. Even the majority of proponent of a so-called “green economy” still keep incessantly talking about growth, about growing the economy.

By now we have exhausted and almost exhausted our non-renewable resources, and not just coal, oil and gas, but also metals, though the latter we can reclaim by proper recycling processes, and we are now hell for leather doing the same for rare earth and rare earth metals, be it cobalt, lithium and others for the batteries and other components for cellphones, e-vehicles, etc. and the extraction of at least cobalt and lithium causes environmental and human disasters.

We need to make a serious u-turn and we must make it now and return to the ways of old combined with the knowledge and technology that we have today to produce again in a sustainable way making things that last and that can be repaired, either by simple DIY-tinkering by user or, well, tinkerer, or in small workshops dedicated to undertake such repairs. The latter then creating a repair service economy or sector of the economy. Like with less waste production though using glass bottles and jars, for instance, and having refundable deposits on such containers or though collection of recyclables, only they were not called that then, by the rag-and-bone man, we have been there before and we must go there again.

© 2021