“I never thought plastic recycling would work,” says Roland Geyer, an engineering professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of the study “Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made.” “There is a viable business model around metal, but plastics never has had that. It’s too low-value, too contaminated, with too many different polymers mixed together. And you can only make it work with a really low cost of labor.”
Fascinating stuff. Perhaps it's time to step away from plastic containers for foodstuffs. I'm a little surprised we didn't move at least a little further away post BPA awareness.
In Salt Lake City they stopped accepting many types of plastic in the recycling bin this summer, it's been a huge PITA. It's also led me to recycle less. This bugged me so I've changed my shopping habits a bit to compensate. For example, I avoid shopping at Trader Joe's, because everything there comes wrapped in plastic. Everything. It doesn't seem like retailers have quite caught on that it's becoming more difficult to recycle.
I feel like this is just one aspect of environmental awareness that has degraded since the 90s. Packaging has become more wasteful, and there's more of it too, because everything is individually shipped in a box in a truck now (from Amazon etc.) Cars have become bigger and more wasteful than ever (the SUV trend). All the new architecture is full of huge glass windows & curtain walls... one of the most energy-permeable and wasteful barriers (to the extent that a wall is supposed to be a barrier) you could possibly design. But it looks great! As does that hermetically sealed pre-packaged salad in the plastic clamshell. I dunno, we seem to be responding to the problem by pretending all the more ferociously that it doesn't exist.
It doesn't make economic sense to use a different material which is more recyclable because, by the definition of this problem, they're much more expensive.
Perhaps the answer is re-usable plastic containers - maybe some system where you can post them back to the manufacturer for cleaning and re-use.
It might just be that once oil drilling for energy goes away, so does some of this problem - at least in that plastics would cease to be so cheap.
But these will break in some special cases. We should avoid treating them as dogmas and be open minded when examining the entire lifecycle of products.
For example, styrofoam is so much less energy intensive than firing ceramics. Given the hot water used in rewashing, you can get some unexpected consequences where disposables are the better option.
(That analysis is sensitive to how energy efficient your dishwasher is, and how durable the ceramic is.)
So imagine if even after we stop using petroleum, Texas finds a giant pool of easy oil next to abundant landfill space... Could be Texans should probably just use plastics and toss them in that situation.
New Yorkers might have a different calculus, because the cost of trash hauling and processing is more significant there.
It all depends.
Rest assured, at the rate we create landfills, the tectonic plates will push our landfills below the surface of the Earth and create new untouched landmasses before we run out of space.
There are unintuitive results in this domain. Highly recommend you check out some of the lit, like Hocking mentioned above.
We’ll poison the oceans long before landfill becomes an issue.
How do local supermarkets compete with TJs? Seriously, I love me some TJs but if the plastics are truly non-recyclable I will need to consider - we need go back to using a more sustainable method.
Also paper, glass and wood are all much more easily recycled. Re-Use should be king.
TJ's in many ways is a way over stocked 7-11 full of prepped foods and the most common of things.
Yet, isn’t that what automation provides? It has been two decades since supermarkets in the Nordic countries have whizbang bottle-return machines that take back plastic, aluminium, and glass bottles as long as the barcode is still legible. Is there really no way to make a machine that scans the barcode of various other forms of plastic packaging (like yoghurt containers, ketchup bottles, etc.) and then directs the item to the appropriate container? Since the machine will know the exact categorization of the packaging on the basis of the barcode, then consumers would not be required to correctly sort plastic rubbish themselves.
Here in salt lake, however, we actually have to pay extra to have a glass collection bin at home. There are a dozen or so sites in the city that one could dump the glass, if they were so inclined, or into the general trash bin it goes. We certainly don't get paid for our our glass.
It's extra disappointing because local...legal strangeness, has been encouraging a bit of a local brewery boom. I'd love to return the glass to the brewery for cleaning and reuse, but that's not an option here.
All that said, there's a ton of plastic that goes into single stream recycling that isn't barcoded...
This is one of the few cases where glass "recycling" makes sense. Unfortunately, glass is stupid cheap in terms of base material and production process so the only way to make recycling glass products worthwhile is to put the used product right back into service in its whole form (after cleaning of course). I'll try to find the study I'm thinking of but from what I recall, glass recycling isn't just uneconomical to recycle, it often winds up requiring more energy to recycle than it does to obtain the base materials and create a new container. Contamination knocks down the efficiency and the logistics of collecting and sorting glass are far less efficient than the bulk mining and transport of silica into a centralized production plant.
A possible solution to this, IMO, is to force bottling operations to standardize on a handful of containers in different sizes, colors/opaqueness, and closure type. This could also work hand in hand with a ban on plastic bottles for common products like juice, soda, etc. Marketing departments would hate it but the centralized redistribution of reusable containers that are useful to every bottling operation would finally make glass recycling a rational concept.
And voila, that's exactly the case in Denmark
(I live in silly valley now and it makes me nauseated to have to deal with all the waste here - I refuse all the packaging I can but rarely plan well enough to bring a stainless steel container)
We define the derivative of a party as the amount of alcohol that can be purchased by returning the empty bottles left after the party. A good party is a party such that the second derivative of the party is positive.
Here's a cheesy video demoing it (turn down the volume):
It's pretty big:
IMO use tax policy to drive it. Put a $5 tax on plastic clamshells and they’ll be gone in six months.
I have seen a marked reduction/elimination of clamshells the past decade of buying from them.
I'd love to complain to retailers nearby: "see this, I'm returning it and buying it from Amazon right now because of your consumer-unfriendly packaging"
They have, they just don't care. It's not directly their problem that you can't recycle their waste until people stop buying there or start returning their waste to them.
We have knit plastic bags that we can put veggies in. Super light (no tare needed) and can hold a lot... Yet we've used them hundreds of times.
Now think of that crappy flimsy plastic bag, or plastic wrapping. It's used once, and "thrown away" (please: define where away is..). That's the problem - single use and nearly impossible to use for anything else.
Oddly they saw no need to market on this.
I always assume there’s something nasty under the surface with plastic drink and serving ware — like 6 months after the first BPA studies hit the press, GE sold its plastic and silicone divisions.
Any type of plastic used in consumer products needs to be recyclable easily, otherwise outlaw it.
Any food containers need to be compostable.
I'm willing to pay much higher food and product costs so that the waste we create can be easily recycled. If it makes the product economically unviable then maybe the product isn't that useful.
is that relevant if plastic is still the cheapest option? should we pay more just to spite them?
It's a common sight in Silicon Valley offices to see greasy empty pizza boxes in the recycling bin. People just don't seem to realize that greasy cardboard can't be recycled, and might even contaminate other material.
I think a lot actually do realize it. At least where I live, the garbage bins at residences are about 1/2-3/4 the size as the recycle bins (glass has a separate bin). A lot just use it as a garbage bin, because the recycle bin is usually "free" and some pizza boxes don't even fit in the actual garbage bin (without taking time to break it down). A pizza box can take up a lot of room in the actual smaller trash bin, and they'd rather fill it with other trash. I'd attribute it more to laziness and convenience.
Instead of buying pre-cut veggies and fruit, you can get the individual ones and do it yourself.
Unfortunately, what this thread sees as waste consumers often see as a benefit: buying items in sealed containers lets you have peace of mind against spoilage or in-store contamination (anyone can open up those pour-your-own tubs of olive oil and sneeze into them).
Additionally, packaged things stack up better, so you can offer consumers a wider variety- laundry detergent scents, drink flavors, and so forth. Offering pour-your-own means maintaining and cleaning goods and equipment that are exposed to both product and air, which is more expensive for grocers.
Finally, packaging (especially the clamshell variety) is often used for protection- from damaging the contents in shipping / handling to acting as a mild anti-theft device.
So, yes, there is a market for reduced-production goods. Produce, grains, soft drinks at gas stations, and some other goods are already there.
If there is a reasonable way to protect goods, ensure their freshness, offer a unique variety in a low maintenance fashion, there's money to be made. If you can't do that and still want to reduce production, you're going to either end up creating more waste through some side effect of the tradeoffs involved.
Get your authorized Tide refill at Target instead of having Amazon ship it. People don’t like glass because of the energy used to produce it, but it’s always seemed like a no brainer to me.
It is still some plastic, but I assume it is less waste than a hard bottle.
You write that as if Target didn't used to sell Tide refills but gave up because nobody bought it.
I get milk delivered from a farmer in resusable glass bottles. We lose like 1% a year, which represents probably 95% less waste than buying disposable plastic or cardboard containers.
Taiwanese children are taught from day one how to sort recyclables. It is standard not only to sort properly, but also wash containers and decompose them into parts if they are made up of different materials.
Not only that but due to Japanese influence, reuse is a huge part of the culture already.
There's even a completely different conversation about how children are taught how to fold their trash and stack containers to minimize space use in trash.
Weird how if we take advantage of the neural nets we are born with what we can do...
Straws aren't also necessary, I don't drink coffee I buy with a straw and I'm managing fine. Soft drinks can probably just have those coffee caps and then gradually transition.
The big problem in my eyes are trash bags. Don't know how to replace those.
Composting, and recycling glass, metal, and paper greatly reduces the need for plastic trash bags. Most of my regular trash these days is plastic that can't be recycled - either food contaminated, or thin plastic bags. And when you have so little landfill trash, you don't need to buy those massive plastic garbage bags. In my household, we just use the plastic bags that we get our produce in - and we don't even bag all of our produce, just things like leafy greens (delicate) or green beans/okra (hard to keep together)
Something like https://www.c2ccertified.org/ being applicable to every usage of plastic, essentially.
Those "flimsy" plastic bags in particular have a ~65% re-use rate in the US, whereas the heavy duty "reusable" bags often take far more plastic and energy to product, so you have to re-use them at far higher rates than the flimsy ones to make up for the cost to produce them.
40% of shoppers who have those bags forget them, so there's a world where we are actually producing more plastic and incurring food born illness from people not washing out their re-usable bags.
People not even trying to recycle is a huge pet peeve of mine, but I think the plastic bag bans tend to be kind of stupid. Nevermind that now people have to buy garbage liners instead of just re-using the bags.
I would like to see something to get the soda industry back to aluminum, but even moving to glass the costs of it all are not very easy to track, because the significantly higher impact on energy required to move glass in bulk vs. plastic.
One good move you can make is do things like purchase bar-form soaps and shampoos for your bathroom… but ultimately we've got to get people off of K-Cups and buying so much plastic bottled water when they can just re-fill something, or bring your own container to a coffee shop.
And maybe give up on 2-day shipping from Amazon, or try to bulk-ship your order instead of placing a new one for every item you think of 30 minutes apart…
The closest solution will probably come from some kind of plastic-consuming bio engineering, or energy-harvesting incinerators like in parts of Europe and Africa: https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/21/africa/reppie-waste-to-energy...
That, and maybe move away from the "big blue bin" which has made people think they can just throw anything in there which has had the unintended consequence of causing recycling to cost much more and have way more contaminants.
Burning it or turning it into asphalt or other kind of building material might be easier/cheaper
Out of curiosity... Just how delusional am I?
(No info there on pricing ...)
"Bioplastics can take different length of times to totally compost ... and are meant to be composted in a commercial composting facility, where higher composting temperatures can be reached and is between 90-180 days. Most existing international standards require biodegradation of 60% within 180 days..."
I wonder if an equal alternative would be to collect each type of recyclable once a month. Eg.
- 1st week: paper/cardboards
- 2nd week: plastics
- 3rd week: glass
- 4th week: metals
Yes it would mean more trash cans but in total volume I don't think it would be much different than my current single-stream bi-weekly collection.
There was uproar when we moved to this from weekly rubbish and recycling collection, but most of the time it really seems to work - we recycle far more than I thought we would.
Aside from the usual problem of people not caring about sorting, one or more of the bins is often full, and homeless people sort through the trash to take the aluminum cans, leaving mostly the incorrectly sorted stuff behind.
And it kept being such after decades of different rounds of bans, until the blanket ban last year.
It's just much more difficult to separate stuff after everything is mixed up, like it says in the article.
Most European countries show that it is possible to do much better. I have to separate plastics/cans, glass, paper, vegetables and non-recyclables (5 streams). And the occasional batteries/electronics. Really, it's not that hard, if you furnish for it. In my household, the non-recyclable waste has shrunk to just one garbage bag every two weeks, for a family of four.
And still I think much should be improved, starting with much stricter regulation for packaging. We still dispose a lot of plastics, around 3 medium size bags every two weeks. Just forbid (or tax into oblivion) single-use plastics entirely, and let the food and retail industries innovate their packaging/distribution/fulfillment using paper, carton, bio-plastics, glass or re-usable.
Much should be improved, and everyone should play their part. Maybe there is a startup idea servicing people who just refuse to do so?
There are beneficiaries to this negligence and they are handsomely profiting (and giving their cronies in Congress campaign contributions) while the world starts to resemble the one in Wall-E more and more.
Campaign finance reform and fixing broken electoral processes has the best probability to exposing and removing the corruption.