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What Happens Now That China Won't Take U.S. Recycling (theatlantic.com)
256 points by edward 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 219 comments



The garbage disposal problem, of which recycling is a subset, is due to a lack of back pressure in the consumption system.

From the perspective of production, disposal is an externality. From the perspective of the consumer, disposal is an annoyance that they typically don't have enough buyer power individually to push back on to producers.

Society has come up one workaround: social conscience, the green movement, so that shame can be used to attack brands, aggregating buying power to push back on producers. It doesn't work brilliantly with everyone - some people are allergic to the ritualistic, moralizing pseudo-religious aspects of the movement.

Politics has come up with another: WEEE: the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive. This is an attempt to tax goods by incorporating the cost of disposal into the purchase price. While the green movement was necessary to provide political will, it's much better than a directly shaming approach - the closer the cost of disposal can be pushed to the producer, tightening the feedback loop, the more likely economic incentives will work.

Continuing to push the problem upstream into production is the long term answer. If you try and increase costs at point of disposal, consumers are simply incentivized to cheat, or pay people to cheat on their behalf. The whole exporting of rubbish to China wheeze was one big cheat. The costs have to be loaded at the point of purchase, and producers ultimately made responsible for costs of disposal.


Yes!

And it's not just economic costs. It's "lifestyle", more or less. So a few decades ago, all beer bottles were the same size and shape. You took your empties back to the store, and got paid for them. Distributors bought them from stores, and manufacturers from distributors. So they got reused until they broke.

Maybe 40 years ago, some regional US beer makers still did this. Maybe some still do. I saw this 10-20 years ago in Mexico, for both beer and soda bottles. And it was also pretty common for wine bottles.

But now? Now my wife buys French yogurt in tiny glass bottles. Tiny heavy glass bottles. We could save them, but they're really too small for anything but liquor. And who wants to drink from old yogurt containers, in any case?

in the late 60s and 70s, a crucial aspect of the food coop movement was buying bulk stuff, and using your own containers. In Mexico, old-style milk stores often didn't provide containers. And if they did, it was plastic bags. Handling a 2L plastic bag of milk is quite the experience.

I can't imagine how the US could go back to bulk distribution and reusable containers. Or, for that matter, how we could undo suburbanization. But there are limits to externalities, and we are hitting them.


Starting to catch on again in the Bay Area. Mason jars have been all the rage for a while now (for everything - yogurt, soda, beer, kombucha, pickling), while we use old Prego containers for things like storing leftovers and bringing food over to friends. Most boba shops will also let you bring your own thermos and fill it for you.


That's good to hear. Me, I live in Generica, and everything is disposable. But we eat too much Talenti gelato, and those are useful containers (food, hardware, etc).

In the 70s-80s, I carried camping stuff (cup, bowl and utensils). I got some resistance, with concern expressed about food contamination.


Talenti containers are great for art stuff. But I caution you, they MELT under heat very easily! I guess its not a problem for their original purpose but I found this out the hard way.


That's because they're number 1 and 2 plastics. Look for number 5 plastics for your autoclave needs (still no guarantees because of different plasticizers, but the plastic itself won't melt).


Ummm, "autoclave"? Are you growing shrooms? We used wide-mouth mason jars for that.


Yeah, learned that too. So I thaw stuff very slowly, and transfer to a bowl for reheating. But it's a plus that they're somewhat elastic, so they don't burst when you freeze stuff.


Reusable containers died as soon as plastic containers were developed. Plastic containers are so much lighter that significant money is saved in transport, and obviously the handling and transport for the returns, the inspecting, washing, sterilizing costs are all gone. Huge win for the producers, not sure whether it's a net win or loss overall environmentally.


Sure. That's why it happened.

But what to do with all those containers? Many current disposable containers are durable enough for long-term use. Even a couple centuries ago, they'd be passed down through families. Maybe they still are, somewhere.

But what do I do with hundreds of ~4L plastic milk bottles?


Use them as bricks and build houses.


Given the season, I'd been thinking of an ice house. But I suppose that one could fill them with concrete, and stack them. Maybe scatter some small rocks between layers, so they deform and ~interlock. And maybe even punch some rebar through them.

But you'd need to cover the outside, to slow weathering. And stuff doesn't stick well to polyethylene. Gorilla glue does, so you could add a layer of foam, and then siding.

I suspect that getting a construction permit would be iffy, though.


I think you could use them for something like earthbag construction, filled with soil. Would have great insulative properties as long as you fill in the cracks with mud 'mortar'.

That's a better idea. Concrete has substantial CO2 cost.

Still common in South America (as of 5 years ago) and Europe (as of about 9)


Every large American city I’ve lived in has buy-back glass milk bottles in the major supermarkets.

I have about $35 worth in my garage right now. I really need to take them back and get my money.


They still do the glass bottle returns in Mexico.


They still do it in the US also, but you'll pay about 4x more for your milk. You can often find milk on sale for $1.99/gallon (it's a "loss leader" for supermarkets) while a half gallon in a returnable glass bottle will be $3.50 or $4.00 not including the bottle deposit.


A store in the UK (sainsburys) briefly experimented with selling milk in bags. You bought a big jug which the top-up bag clipped into. Ostensibly it reduced plastic waste. Pretty sure it was cheaper than buying bottles. It never really caught on though and they canned it.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/greenerliving/7307719...


Bagged milk is still big in Canada (at least a decade ago)


Confirmed, milk is sold in 1l bags and has been all my life.


They're 1.33l.

A company once tried the usual "Let's reduce the size of the package and nobody will notice" shenanigan and made 1L bags, but it was blatantly obvious when it didn't fit the plastic jug anymore.


Cool.

Some of those old bottles are outright beautiful. Frosted where the rub together in crates.


It seems like a good startup idea...


Good answer.

One interesting addendum is that many food producers are lobbying to argue that reducing the amount of plastic in their packages will likely lead to more food wastage.

The feedback loops here are fascinating, but I'm increasingly reminded of the scorched earth public relations tactics employed by the Tobacco industry against plain packaging and which turned out later to be pure fiction.

https://www.bath.ac.uk/case-studies/debunking-big-tobaccos-a...


The precept that packaging serves to reduce spoilage is true.

The real question is, can there really be no other alternative with merit? For example, it's true glass can break, but the main knocks against it are mostly cost & weight (aka delivery cost). Are they lobbying in good faith, or just trying to keep the cheapest option?


Weight means more energy to move the product which means more fuel in and more co2 out.


True, but it takes energy to produce and dispose of the plastic packaging, so it’s no so clear which produces the least co2 without doing the math.


I'm pretty sure the extra CO2 to transport would be worth the tradeoff for a decrease in physical pollution.

I'd argue that it's not even a problem if more food is wasted. If it's a small percentage, it's still going to be a net win for the environment if it dramatically reduces the amount of plastic used for food packaging. The problem is that there is no economical cost on the environmental impact to producers.

My local supermarket has switched to supplying avocados in a plastic tray wrapped in plastic film. I can't imagine that provides any meaningful advantage over shipping 10s of avocados loose in a large cardboard box.

Of course for the industry it's bad because any percentage increase in waste comes out of their profits, while plastic packaging is basically free.


That's not the argument in full. Carbon cost of production includes the cost of wastage. If the cost in carbon to produce what is wasted is > than the savings elsewhere, it is a loss.

It is not so much a complicated equation as it is an involved one, and we risk simplifying the equation and getting it very wrong.


Or foregoing the "lets get our groceries shrink-wrapped from Chile" and instead going local.

Locality of produce means it's fresher (doesn't ripen during transport) and local operations get a boost.

The fact that Sudexo supplies my local grades school rather than local operations cooking from local produce means schools are at the mercy of a large megacorp that likely does not locally source the food (not to mention it's not healthy).


The cost in carbon of a thing is complicated, and this sort of X (local) is good, and Y (non-local) is bad causes a lot of the issues.

There was a debate about Dutch flowers vs Kenyan. The debate was framed as "local vs grown in sunshine", e.g. the cost of growing in cold greenhouses vs sunshine. I think you know where this is going...

https://ecoligo.com/blog/2018/08/08/the-air-miles-debate-are... (https://only-roses.co.uk/U/files/Cut_roses_for_the_British_m... is the study). Even after accounting for distance and transport, the Kenyan flowers have lower carbon usage.

A book like https://www.amazon.com/Drawdown-Comprehensive-Proposed-Rever... provides the context needed to choose between options, and the solutions are often odd, like replacing old fridges which has a HUGE climate change benefit (because the refrigerants are 1,000s of times worse than CO2), but that's not a story that is told because, well I think complicated narratives lose to simpler ones.


Forget carbon cost, and focus simply on taste. Does fruit that ripens in storage appeal to you over local?

While I can understand your garden-path re: fridges, the kenyan flowers is a strawman.

The vast majority of local produce will cost less, taste better and keep better than ones shipped across the border or an ocean.


Seems like a reasonable trade-off to me. Increased food wastage is a problem with entirely short-term consequences, and the opportunity to save this wasted food will spur new innovations.

We're capable of shipping eggs very well in low grade recycled paper; there are surely ecological solutions for other foods to be found.


I find that Amazon is one of the worst offenders. It's clear, especially for Amazon fresh orders, that they have zero incentive to care about their plastic footprint, and they take full advantage of this. Should be taxed or disincentivized.


Ugh, I once got an amazon package that contained a product about the size of a toaster oven and it was shipped in the original manufacturer's box, nested in the box from whoever shipped the product to amazon, nested in the box amazon used to ship it. All the boxes were full of packing foam of course, so the total volume of the packaging after removing it was about a meter squared, or about 25x the volume of the product inside. It was extremely upsetting.


When you buy Amazon Fresh, if it contains anything cold, Amazon will include many packs to keep it cold. Our first time was a decently large order and it contained 8 (!) of such packs. They don't have a program to return these things. It's not just water inside but some other substance that shouldn't be casually thrown out. Suffice to say it was also our last order. I wouldn't say we're particularly more garbage-conscious than most but that was just absurd.

To me, that should be illegal without some kind of reuse program.


Most of the cold gel-packs actually are just water inside. We had one of the packs (with the little green gel beads) split open and our infant ate some of the beads, but when we called poison control they were like "Yeah, the beads are just tap water wrapped in plastic. The water's harmless, and the plastic will just pass through his digestive system. In rare cases the water can have bacteria in it, so watch out for signs of mild food poisoning, but otherwise he should be fine." I guess they individually wrap the water so that it can continue to conform to the shape of whatever you wrap it around, plus it melts more slowly and the temperature release is more controlled. Probably also helps them charge more if the customer believes it's some fancy chemical rather than just water - no manufacturer ever says exactly what's in their cold packs.

Not exactly great for the environment (how does an ice pack manage to have more plastic inside than the entire rest of the packaging?), but yes, you can casually throw them out. Also a brilliant example of marketing and customer deception.


This may not have always been the case, per the other reply to this comment. In my experience that is correct, because we cut them open and there was no such beads, just an opaque gel that, while could've been simply water, didn't seem like it (I've never seen "pure" water in a gelatinous form). I only recall reading that it was drain-safe, so maybe that supports the water theory (though we put much more than water down drains), or at least some mostly-safe substance.

That scheme didn't last very long, and they've changed a couple times since then. For a while it was similar packs, but filled with water, and the pack said to just pour it down the drain. And now they send packs of dry ice along with frozen food, and frozen bottles of water along with refrigerated food. The dry ice just sublimates away (and the cardboard it's in is recyclable), and the bottled water is at least slightly valuable as a product.


>The dry ice just sublimates away

Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide, though. So when it sublimates, the CO2 will go into the atmosphere.


Found this use of it interesting (from the Wikipedia article about dry ice):

>Plumbers use equipment that forces pressurised liquid CO2 into a jacket around a pipe. The dry ice formed causes the water to freeze, forming an ice plug, allowing them to perform repairs without turning off the water mains. This technique can be used on pipes up to 4 inches (100 mm) in diameter.[23]


Where do you think the CO2 came from in the first place?


From turtles (all the way down/up)? Heh.

Jokes apart:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_ice#Manufacture


The main point is that nobody produces (at industrial scale) CO2 just to make dry ice. It's a byproduct of other process that is normally released to the atmosphere, but in this case the release is delayed for a few days.


Usually from ammonia production, so from natural gas and water.


It's not like it's much CO2 though. Nearly as much is released by the truck driving to my house.


i love getting the frozen bottles of water with my amazon fresh purchase.


The good news is cardboard is one of the most valuable recyclables, and I think packaging peanuts are reusable if you drop them off at a postal place.


There's problems with just reusing packing peanuts, too.

I have no idea where I could drop them for reuse, or how I'd even look that up local to me. Then how many do I need to take in one trip to be make sense, carbon-wise, for me to make the drive over? I bet it's an awful lot, and I don't really have a place to store packing peanuts for 2 years while I accumulate enough to be worth the trip


Carbon pollution isn't the only think to consider, but also ther physical pollution of that instead being put in the garbage (and it's decomposable).

Dunno what to do if you can’t accumulate.

But if you can, just post an ad on your local classified.

Some Ebayer will gladly jam garbage bags of them into their car.


I ordered a bathroom rug and they shipped it in a box that would fit the rug unfolded....lol.


As an example for recycling: the grocery deliverable service I use (picnic) charges 35 ct as a deposit for the plastic bags which gets refunded if you give them back the next delivery. They are bio decomposable but they want them back anyways.


There is no garbage disposal problem -- disposal is easy and cheap.

Recycling is an attempt to address what people see as a product creation issue -- they object to the fact that resources are mined, smelted, drilled, refined, etc. in order to create new things, and see recycling as a way to ensure that less of that happens. "The same amount of plastic, but less drilling."


It's not pushed to the producer, it's pushed to the consumer, just as charging more for trash does (which may be ideal depending on who you ask). Regardless, all this does is keeps those who have less from obtaining more, others will eat the costs. Seems everything that is disliked these days always has government taking money as the suggested solution. Even if it was the only way, plenty is already taken to rationally use it to help without using the tool punitively.


What cost isn't eventually pushed to the consumer?

You pay more upfront, you pay more for disposal, you pay more in tax so the government can handle it, or you pay with a degrading environment in which to live.

Forcing producers to account for the full life cycle internalizes that particular externality and makes it an area they can compete in.


This reduces the situation down to simple zero sum as if public spending waste and several other factors don't exist. It doesn't force producers to do anything. Often these types of punitive taxes just feed government coffers and don't affect the problem to the contrary of what idealists told them with simple napkin math when proposed. Encouraging better handling of these things can happen via many awareness and grant initiatives with the vast amounts of monies already taken. You don't have to take more.


Taxes are pretty good at raising awareness, since they're quite controversial. Of course, that increase in awareness isn't necessarily going to result in better actions--there are likely people who will deliberately sabotage such efforts in protest.

If the only solution here is to consume less, taxes could work for the majority of the population. If the cost of consumption goes up, actual consumption goes down. But a significant minority of the population would probably be willing to eat the extra cost, which is unfortunate.

Not all waste producers are individuals, either. Industrial processes often produce a lot of waste, and the products at the end of the chain don't always go to individuals; they might go to the military, for example. Big companies are more likely to have the money and lawyers to evade taxes and fines, which impedes regulation and rewards companies that don't play fair. These issues aren't seen by consumers, so we can't vote with our wallets, either.

Raising awareness via traditional methods seems like a good long-term strategy, but what about all the people who simply don't care?

Ultimately, we're going to need to tackle this problem from multiple angles. It's unlikely that a single tactic will yield satisfactory results. Regulation and taxes are probably going to need to be part of our plan, but they won't be sufficient on their own.


I don't always upvote, but when I do, it's for sharing of insights like this.


If we can somehow figure out how to better sort recycling, some U.S. markets for plastics and paper may emerge.

The technology exists and is in production. Here's a new 90 ton per hour recycling plant, from Bulk Handling Systems, in California.[1] This is a good video to watch to see the whole process. Some of the separation is done with the usual air separators, vibrators, and screens. Optical sorters controlling air jets do some of the separation. This plant has no manual pickers; it uses AI vision controlled robots for the hard separation stations. This is not a prototype; it's a big production plant.

Separating different plastics can be done with near infrared multispectral imaging. Here's a TOMRA sorter doing that in a real plant.[2] That's from 2015.

Finally, here's a big plant in LA which takes in plastic bottles and puts out clean plastic pellets ready for injection molding into new bottles.[3]

China is still accepting US plastics for recycling. It just has to be sorted down to 0.5% contamination, and that's being checked. The standard used to be 1.5%, it wasn't really enforced, and 5% contamination was not uncommon. US recyclers have to upgrade their facilities to the point that there's no manual picking required on the output.

Big cities are dealing with this. Smaller communities have problems, because they don't have enough volume for the newer equipment and don't generate enough material to find buyers.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=254&v=4FpsH_ETT7... [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0OZ7Mlmkvk [3] https://www.kcet.org/shows/socal-connected/carbonlite-inside... [4] https://www.wastedive.com/news/china-contamination-standard-...


The optical scanners sometimes can’t read black plastics.

It just absorbs IR.

We should discourage them.

The scanners are cool since they’re analyzing the plastic itself; not reading codes.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/restaurants-coffee-pl...


> We should discourage them

By that, I mean discourage the black plastics, not the optical scanners!


It's important to understand the issue that recycling is meant to address. It's cost of landfills, not shortage of materials.

The obvious (but not workable) answer is to just charge the actual cost of disposing material in landfills. But this doesn't work because it encourages illegal dumping and littering.

So, I can see two solutions:

(1) Some process that converts bulk garbage into something that takes up less space. Incineration and pyrolysis are like this. Maybe you get some useful energy or gases out of it, but the main point is to reduce the cost of disposal. But this would have to be cheap and clean, a tall order.

(2) A tax on all manufactured goods, based on their disposal footprint, that subsidizes the landfills. Since this tax is already paid it can't be avoided by illegal dumping.


"Some process that converts bulk garbage into something that takes up less space. Incineration and pyrolysis are like this. Maybe you get some useful energy or gases out of it, but the main point is to reduce the cost of disposal. But this would have to be cheap and clean, a tall order."

Yeah, it's not invented in America, so it obviously doesn't exist.

Listen, there are countries with almost no landfills because everything is incinerated. Heck, there are even US states without landfills because everything is incinerated! This is not a "tall order", trash incineration is a solved problem, modern trash incineration plants are very efficient at reclaiming energy into either heat or electricity.


“trash incineration is a solved problem, modern trash incineration plants are very efficient at reclaiming energy into either heat or electricity.”

While these plants may be efficient at reclaiming energy, there are other factors to consider.

From the article: “And while many incineration facilities bill themselves as “waste to energy” plants, studies have found that they release more harmful chemicals, such as mercury and lead, into the air per unit of energy than do coal plants”


Yeah the last thing we need is burning more junk and putting more toxins into the air. That's one waste disposal method that's actually worse than properly constructed landfills.


The solution to that is to simply exclude lead and mercury from anything that goes into the trash. In particular, electronics and batteries could be disposed of separately.


Efficient incineration requires dry, energy dense garbage. Thus you need a population that recycles paper, PET, glass and compost religiously, so that all that is left to burn are hydrocarbons like plastic.

If Americans "are terrible at recycling" as the article says, then the incinerators will be burning the wrong stuff.


So basically the argument I had with my dad (conservative blue collar) a couple years ago when he argued "No we're not going to pay $2/mo for recycling bins, this whole recycling thing is just a scam for the trash companies to skim money." Me: "Blah blah blah rainforests, blah blah blah manufacturing waste to produce, etc." I guess he was right?


I live in a capital of an EU country. City mandates recycle bins and garbage segregation due to EU laws, same City collects trash from all bins using same trucks and proceeds to dump it all in one big hole in the ground ~100km away while paying hefty fines. Its been like this ever since we got recycle bins.


Does this happen to be a city in the south of Italy?


What EU country has a capital in the south of Italy? The Kingdom of Two Sicilies?


Similar story where I live, but while the rubbish is separated, before it all gets thrown together again, at least it is easier for Roma people to find what is valuable and support their families that way.


He was sort of right. He correctly sensed there was something off about the sanctimonious arguments for recycling. But it's not the trash companies who are to blame.


Why would you rent recycling bins? I use old 5 gallon paint buckets where I live that I just painted the color coding on and my recyclers don't care.

The thing with recycling is there are mountains of externalities to whether it makes sense or not way beyond just the question of if recycling itself is profitable, the most profound of which just being the carrying cost of consuming so much space with landfills, especially in areas of higher population density - you have more trash per unit area but have to carry that trash farther to get it away from the density. In those environments local recycling centers can be much more economically viable.


I wonder how much "recycling" ends up blowing around the neighborhood and getting mowed over because of people using old buckets or the classing "recycling bin" that lacks a lid or any way to contain the contents when it's windy.

I live in Kansas, we get a lot of wind. I pick up an enormous amount of my neighbor's "recyclables" that have clearly spent a long time blowing around before they land in my yard. We need to mandate better receptacles.


I was thinking the same thing, but only because the township has given every house a recycling bin since the late 80s. I always forget that its different in other places.


(1) I think waste-to-energy is underappreciated, especially if a certain elasticity is planned rather than just running the turbines 24/7 it can meet the elasticity needs of the electric grid.

But then you have to process the ash: https://www.thisiseco.co.uk/news_and_blog/what-happens-to-wa...

(2) is roughly the Green Dot or WEEE approach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Dot_(symbol)


I don't per se have a problem with waste to energy.

I do have a problem labeling it as green energy, and it should be the option of last resort after all other recycling options have been exhausted.


In my town general waste is burned and the resulting heat is used to heat buildings.


basically all of non-rural Sweden does this as well, to the point that we import trash to burn.


So does this mean that recycling is not necessarily even a net gain for the environment? It's all just because it is (was) cheaper?

I mean, if it's really not having an impact on e.g. rainforests etc, and adds the environmental toll of all the petroleum used to ship it all back overseas and the recycling process, might it even be a net loss for the environment?


Part of it was to legitimize producing it in the first place. Plastic bottle production does not seem so bad when the new evil is throwing it away vs. recycling. We shifted the onerous onto ourselves instead of the producers.


For (2) the tax should also be based on the biodegradability of the materials.


biodegradability of individual items is less of an impact when the majority of trash is disposed in non-degrading plastic trash bags.


Would mechanically shredding trash before being dumped help?


Also moistening the trash before burial, I think.

The gases produce need to be captured and burned, though. All that methane. Interestingly, they also need to be decontaminated of traces of silicon-containing compounds, which can muck up turbines in which they're burned.


Won't this lead to a lot of lightweight material (particularly bits of the bags themselves) blowing off the landfill surface before they can be buried?


Landfills are actually pretty cheap, which I think is part of the problem. If I take debris directly to my local transfer station (Portland, OR) they charge a mere $30/ton.


Why is that a problem? The answer to the question "what is the best[1] way to package milk", for instance, might in fact be one time use plastics that are then buried for the next million years.

[1] most economical, accounting for externalities


Is that figure subsidized? Landfill disposal often is, to reduce the incentive for illegal dumping.


> Even in San Francisco, Reed kept pointing out items that aren’t easily recyclable but that keep showing up at the Recology plant: soy-sauce packets and pizza boxes

This is funny, because I was just at SFO yesterday where I got Sushi while waiting for my flight, and was confused by the lack of garbage receptacle. There was a "cans/bottles" recycling bin and a compost bin. A sign announced "Don't worry, everything you purchased in the food court is either recyclable or compostable!" There's no way the soy packets were either recyclable or compostable. (Not to mention the plastic tray with metallic-looking designs on it, and the foil bag of wasabi peas.) So there's a fair amount of institutional negligence going on.


Do what most people do: pick a bin at random and throw everything in there.

It's likely everything goes to the same place anyway (and the bins are a lie) or there's a separation process that will handle it for you.

Before you downvote me: am I wrong? What else should a consumer in this situation reasonably do?


The thing that irks me a bit is that most of all that separation to "recycling, compost, trash" is mostly for virtue signalling anyway, from both the store and customers. "Early era" recycling made a lot of sense, where the effort to separate high value, easy-to-decontaminate items (like aluminum cans and glass bottles) made sense. The economics and ecological aspects never made much sense once we went to large scale single stream recycling, but China's willingness to be the world's garbage can postponed that for a bit.

I think it would make a lot more sense if the bins were just "glass bottles", "aluminum cans" and "everything else", but then people would feel less good about all the stuff they throw away.


Frankly, glass isn't worth recycling either. It's heavy, making it expensive to haul around, and the energy savings vs. using new silica is minimal at best, even without taking the extensive processing required to make it clean enough to use again in to account. Locally, crushed glass is used as landfill cover, which is a good use for it. But there is far more glass than there is a market for it.

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/dec/26/spokanes-recycl... just as an example.

Aluminum is absolutely worth it, due to the crazy-high energy requirements of otherwise separating it from oxygen during ore processing. And we do a very good job of lead recycling- something like 99%+ of lead from lead-acid batteries is recovered, which (IMO) shows that things like core charges work great.

https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/battery-council-inter...

In general, though, consumer-level recycling isn't the good that people think it is. What is needed is inexpensive trash collection and sanitation infrastructure. Make it too expensive, and people just illegally dump, which causes huge problems.

This isn't as exciting for most people to talk about compared to recycling, but that doesn't make it not true. The reason that 9o% of the plastics in the world's oceans come from a few rivers in asia isn't because of plastics per se, for example- it's because the cities along these rivers have zero waste management beyond 'throw it in the river and call it a day'. Collecting and burying plastics in a managed landfill is a perhaps-surprising solid ecological choice. Plastics make for strong and light packaging, and there's a real carbon cost in hauling things around. And the carbon in the plastic in a landfill somewhere isn't going anywhere.

Final note: doing a proper accounting of what actually is the best method of dealing with a waste stream is really, really hard, and I don't blame anyone for making what turn out to be incorrect assumptions, even when trying to do the right thing based on the current best evidence. All we can do is learn from it and try again.


Upvoted for accuracy. Even people that put recyclables in the bins throw dirty containers in which are later separated and put in a landfill.

Recology constantly complains about this. Who wants to spend 5 min washing an old peanut butter jar so it’s clean enough to recycle?

The answer is very few people.


I find it amazing how people throw filthy containers and even food trash, used napkins, teabags in with recycling (because it's "compostable"). It just contaminates the whole lot.


I am pretty sure I heard a Recology employee say on KQED don't worry if the plastic recyclables are dirty, put them in the recycling like that anyway.


> the bins are a lie

I've definitely seen facilities workers throwing everything into the same bag.


I take literally 2-3 seconds to scan the sign, but if I can’t figure it out, I default to trash. Our recycling systems are totally broken.


In Japan they collect different types of trash on different days at firmly set times at dedicated spots; if you miss the day/time or aren't quick enough to get to the spot prior to collection, you have to keep that trash for another week. It was quite an experience when I lived in Kyoto (near Tō-ji temple) to observe/take part in this process.


Also in Tokyo people seemed to be employed at the housing complex level to make sure the trash is going into the best place possible for recycling or incineration.


> A sign announced "Don't worry, everything you purchased in the food court is either recyclable or compostable!" There's no way the soy packets were either recyclable or compostable. (Not to mention the plastic tray with metallic-looking designs on it, and the foil bag of wasabi peas.)

To be fair to the sign, I'm betting you weren't charged for the soy packets. You didn't even receive ownership of the tray.


Amazing how many people think "single stream recycling" means the recyclables get sorted from the garbage!


Sometimes I wonder if the large institutions with just recycle + compost bins know that all your waste just ends up in the trash anyway, and they're just labeling the trash bins as "recycle" and "compost" to make eco-conscious consumers feel better.


Sands convention center in Las Vegas just has trash cans that are marked with a label indicating the whole waste stream has recyclables sorted out of it. who knows what the truth is.


What's the issue with pizza boxes?


As others pointed out, they're soaked with grease. In fact, the problem is so bad that enough pizza boxes bundled with clean cardboard has spoiled entire ton-sized bundles of cardboard shipped to China.

Cardboard is valuable to recycle, but our inability to remove contaminated cardboard from the recycling stream has really caused major issues. Because of that, China has stopped accepting paper and cardboard products from the US for their recycling operations.


They're often soaked in grease. My community won't accept them for recycling either.


Mine tells me to put them in the compost bin.

Still teaching the family though.


Mine usually have a second cardboard sheet in them, so the rest of the box remains pristine.


Saturated with grease


No one cares because the perceived cost is zero. Burning your recycling just externalizes the cost to the environment. If I lived in one of those cities, I’d encourage the city to increase disposal fees so they can do it properly. If people are too poor to pay the fees, then add a sales tax on wastefully packaged products to subsidize disposal fees for low income earners. If business can earn more profit or increase volume by using better packaging, then they’ll do so.


>If people are too poor to pay the fees, then add a sales tax on wastefully packaged products to subsidize disposal fees for low income earners

That just punishes the low income people again.

Taxes on goods disproportionately affect poor people because the tax is a larger portion of your purchasing power the lower your income is.

A rich person, or even a middle class person, isn’t going to be put out of their habits by a couple of cents.


The tax should still be on the purchase price. If essential goods end up too expensive for poor people, then the answer is to raise income levels for poor people via some kind of redistribution.

In order to solve the problem systematically, incentives need to be aligned so that desired global collective outcomes emerge from local individual choices.

If the cost isn't on the purchase price, there's little incentive on consumers at the point of purchase to choose a product with a cheaper disposal cost. Disposal is geographically and temporally remote; and if you're poor, you can economize on it by cheating (littering, fly tipping, illegal burning, man with a van who takes the problem off your hands, etc).


This is a general-purpose argument against charging for anything. Someone won't be able to afford it, so we should make everything free, right? Anytime you charge everyone the same price it'd going to be regressive, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have prices, because prices are what prevents overconsumption and shortages.

The key is that the money from charging for "sin taxes" needs to be given back in a way that's progressive. Either give everyone the same amount or overweight giving the money to poor people.

(Price discrimination also helps; often you can figure out how to charge more for people that can afford it.)


>This is a general-purpose argument against charging for anything. Someone won't be able to afford it, so we should make everything free, right?

No.

You extrapolating a very specific argument to the nonsense degree and it not making sense anymore doesn’t mean the original argument was invalid.

Nor does it mean the original argument was an endorsement of your extrapolation.


My point is that when you say "X is regressive" - well, lots of things are regressive. That's how prices work. If you want to fix it, you have to look at income.


There are levels. You can't just say well all same prices are regressive, so dismiss any attempts to prevent exacerbating it. Also, it's foolish to say income is the only place it can be fixed. Reducing poor public spending, subsidizing preferences, acknowledging taxing as punishment isn't always the best solution (even if it works), encouraging public awareness, etc etc are all there.


Yes, I agree that there are a lot of different things we can do.

However, sometimes, charging different prices based on income is impractical. Gas needs to be more expensive to discourage its use (to combat global warming), and it's not practical to ask people their income when they buy gas.

This is especially true when we're talking about prices that aren't charged to consumers directly, but will get passed on to them.

So, to avoid affecting poor people too much we need to compensate for that. The idea is that if you spend less than average on the things being discouraged then you come out ahead.


And because the percentage of income one spends for "packaged products" is gets lower the richer you get (and gets capped), the rich can just put aside a "pollute as much as I like" percentage of their income just for not having to care about recycling.


Being rich implies being able to consume more. That’s the difference between rich and not rich.


No, that's a trailer park idea of the rich.

Being rich implies more wealth and power, which is different than consumption, and that is the actual difference between rich and not rich.

Rich people can and do consume more, but, unless you're some kind of gaudy nouveaux into bling or Saudi oil heir, there's only so much you can spend on the kind of "packaged products" we're discussing (and clothes, foods, gadgets, and so on) as part of your everyday life.

Rich will buy a fancier car (or cars), a nicer house (or houses), etc, but those are long term anyway, and can even be investments in themselves. They don't get new "packaged products" in any substantial number more than middle class people.

https://slate.com/business/2013/01/yacht-economics-rich-peop...


It’s the same definition, being able to consume more means having the power to consume more.

A bigger home, traveling further, fancier cars, are all more polluting than a few “package products”. I would bet an accurate tracking of externalities (especially due to extra fuel usage due to extra travel), rich people wouldn’t just be able to ignore it.


As long as the tax is greater than the cleanup cost, they should be encouraged to do so.


Why should consumers pay those fees or taxes? Businesses ultimately cause the problem by producing disposable goods, and should bear the cost of disposing their goods, not consumers. Charge manufacturers per-product based on how much of a cost/environmental impact it is to dispose of that product (and packaging!). Something like a 1¢/gram of plastic produced, charged to manufacturers, could make it more painful to produce wasteful products like bottled water and Keurig cups.


> Businesses ultimately cause the problem by producing disposable goods

People cause the problem by buying disposable goods. No business will produce something that nobody buys…


On the other hand, businesses create needs no one had through advertisement and all kinds of psychological manipulation (which they study intensely) all the time...

If we disallowed ads, the kind that are manipulating everybody that a beer will get them laid and a new car will make them a better version of themselves, consumption would fall to much lower rates (and fact that what happened at periods when media went on prolonged strike).


Yes, and the idea is here: make the disposable goods expensive to buy so people stop buying them.


But those costs will be passed onto whoever's buys their bulk products, who will then un turn pass the cost down to the end of the chain - consumers. It just makes everything cost more for end users still.


This argument fails the basic economic sniff-test. In such an environment where packaging waste is taxed any business that can figure out cost-effective ways to reduce the waste footprint of their product gains a competitive advantage that they can use to either increase profits or pass on the the consumer to gain market-share.


So basically, recycling is a lie. Most stuff can’t really be recycled except at great cost. Who perpetuated this lie to begin with I wonder, was it just to get us to keep buying stuff?


Yes, other than aluminum, it has been debunked for some time:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6klo0p

It’s so religious that most people won’t even consider a debate about it. Anyone speaking out against it is a heretic.


Some of us do it out of principle. I have no disillusions about its impact. For all the plastic I recycle, I know there’s an invisible supply chain of waste that makes my actions almost meaningless. Yet, I do it anyway, because it’s a good reminder of the values that I don’t want to forget.


Try buying biodegradable products rather than wasting your time with recycling


The key point from the article was to try buying less, not buying different. It's also the only thing that makes from a "climate change" point of view.


What principle?


Speaking out against what, specifically? You can complain about the problems with the current system without anyone looking at you weirdly. Only if you conclude "therefore we should stop trying to recycle these things" will anyone complain. The system could be fixed, if we put effort into it.


I would argue that recycling itself is not a lie, it just so happen that at some point people discovered it was cheaper to ship their problem to someone else.

I would argue that the 'recycling' teachings serves as a way to teach kids & parents to care about their environment. Composting is also a type of 'recycling' that allows you to make better use of a portion of the garbage you make.


The article itself pointed out that 1) it didn't used to be a lie and 2) it's only a lie because we throw so much trash into the recycling stream.

So if anything is a lie, it's single stream recycling.


People who saw a way to skim off the top by setting up recycling companies.


It was inncidents like the 1987 Mobro 4000 trash barge that created the headline that we were running out of landfill space and everyone needed to start recycling https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobro_4000

There was even a simpsons episode where homer manages the local dump that becomes filled to capacity


I would like to know if there is any progress to be made in just "stabilizing" plastics in large quantities.

Is it a worthwhile research goal to find a cheap method of transforming post-consumer plastics into an inert, large-scale form (the size of a tractor trailer) that is long-term stable and doesn't offgas?

Is reusability really necessary?


Not exactly what you're asking for, but similar goals: https://preciousplastic.com/


really interesting. i had no idea such a movement existed. they make it look simple and easy.


this guy is already producing a 9KG "upcycled plastic brick" which apparently can be used in construction

https://bazar.preciousplastic.com/en/listings/687199-upcycle...


I wonder about this too. It would be a form of carbon capture, even though it is probably a tiny percentage.


It’s probably better to figure out how to convert it to concrete stabilization materials.


interesting. e.g. a replacement for iron rebar?


Probably more like aggregate, not rebar. I believe fiberglass is already added when the situation calls for it. Plastic strands could act in a similar fashion and would be practically free.

If we look back 2, 3000 years ago, disposal was a problem already. We can see how people discarded things even when they were relatively expensive. Example all the different strata at the Troy/Troja site.

It’s hardly a modern problem. But in modern times we have added complications of sheer volume, toxicity, and lack of biodegradability.


>If we look back 2, 3000 years ago, disposal was a problem already

Disposal is a problem since the dawn of time in the general since (you need to dispose waste somewhere, even if you're an amoeba), but it's misleading to call it a problem anywhere close to today's sense back 3000 years ago.

It wasn't even close in neither quantity, nor quality.


I already acknowledge that. My point is being expensive doesn’t make people dispose any less. If they are not useful they don’t get reused repurposed or recycled.

Given thd volume and unprofitability we can only find ways to process them to get rid of them. Those things which have value will be recycled, etc.


>My point is being expensive doesn’t make people dispose any less.

Factually wrong. If I can now afford 1 unit instead of the 2 I used to per month, I will discard the packaging of 1.

If prices of goods packaged in shitty packaging rises enough, people will opt for other options. This isn't a fantastical idea, it's what has happened historically. See for example what happened every time in every country that decided to force buyers to pay for plastic bags.


You're still thinking in terms of the whole imprecise game of trying to get, induce, tempt, cajole, lecture, nag, incentivize and/or shame people ("end users") into voluntarily contributing some of the time/energy/cost it takes to recycle. What they're suggesting at least with the WEEE thing (lost opportunity to make it say WEEED dudebro! ahem where was I) is that they forcibly take, from the producer of the item, some portion of the costs of recycling, and then downstream use that money... to do the recycling. Which seems a lot more direct and obvious, but maybe I misunderstood that part.


> My point is being expensive doesn’t make people dispose any less.

Has this even been studied? I find the claim astounding.


Hunter gathers made large waste piles a 100,000 years ago. They are called shell midens and other things. We only see a fraction of these because sea level was much lower then.


Maybe this is a blessing in disguise so we're focused more on recycling from the start, not as an after-the-fact. Companies like Apple (and others) have been inching us towards this notion of disposable electronics. Once we can no longer simply "dispose" of things, perhaps it will push companies and governments to look at making things more environmentally responsible from the start.


It could be a blessing in disguise if recycling is considered appropriately. Reduce, reuse, recycle, dispose, in that order of priority.

Without that it is very difficult to claim, with any credibility at all, being environmentally responsible.

I'm not optimistic.


My mother, in her 80s, occasionally says they didn't need recycling when she was young because things were not disposable in the same way they are now. They were also pretty broke and so much more likely to "make do" than they were to buy something new. The lack of choice and diversity of goods back then probably also played a huge role in this. Not saying we should go back to that but we can learn from it.


She's got a point with respect to durable items. In the last century it was uncommon to throw something out just because it had a crack or tear... minor repairs were the norm. Now we throw out perfectly good phones when the battery gets worn out and it isn't fashionable to replace them. We've gotten (a bit) better at reducing wasteful packaging but much worse regarding the longevity of what's inside the package. Also, world population growth isn't helping the problem.


Perhaps Apple not the best example there.


The article doesn't mention Plastic China [1] the documentary that in some ways really prompted China to make this change.

1 - https://www.plasticchina.org/


> "They can split the atom, but they can't recycle plastic?"

I think this was a quote from that documentary, it was either posted here or on reddit previously (I'm not complaining, it was fascinating) – that quote, by a worker in a Chinese recycling plant to the owner of the plant, after being told Americans can't handle plastic, has stuck with me for some reason.


Thanks for the link. This is the first time I’ve heard about this film. The trailer and reading about the film are sad and depressing. I’ll try to watch the film.

My impression is that China is making huge investments in cleaning up the country. Increasingly China has begun to assert itself and not allowing itself to be a dumping ground goes along with this change.


I've always thought recycling is a bit of a sham, designed primarily to provide some feel-good busywork for people who are concerned about environmental impact of using bad packaging, but not enough to change their habits.


Not at all. Recycling glass and metal can be virtually perpetual, and applies to far more than just packaging. Recycling paper and plastic is obviously much more limited, and there should be funds derived from disposal fees that are used to research better, longer cycled alternatives (as well as improvements to existing recycling tech). But a 4-6x reduction in paper/plastic waste through recycling is extremely significant nonetheless.

Of course lifestyle change is an important part of any solution, but certainly not a panacea or even a desired exclusive remedy.


What are glass and metal? Seriously, we hardly use that stuff any more.


All of the beer you drink is delivered in metal cans or glass bottles with metal tops, usually all purchased in recyclable cardboard packaging.


I agree up until the last part. Habits aren't formed in a vacuum. Corporations sell products in bad packaging and for most people most of the time there is no reasonable way to avoid purchasing products in that form. The only way to change the situation is to legislate. A tax on packaging seems most pragmatic. Unfortunately, pragmatism would go against the prevailing dogmatic faith in the free market being the solution to all problems and so we do nothing.


Another way would be to make garbage collection "pay as you go", for example by charging for collection bags.

This is closer to "free market spirit", but creates a huge incentive to dump the garbage into the nearest river...


The obvious answer is to levy hefty fine for dumping so that expected loss is higher than collection bag fee. Source: I live in collection bag fee jurisdiction.


So how does it work for you?

My biggest fear is that the cost of enforcement will greatly outweigh possible benefits.

In this sense taxing the "supply" side is much easier.


How does the tax on the packaging negatively affect the business? The business will just pass that cost directly onto the consumer.


This is part of the solution, actually. If packaging is part of the total price of the product, then those products with less packaging will cost less, and be preferred by consumers. It's a direct incentive to use less packaging.


The answer is to put the burden of recycling back on the manufacturer, and add a refundable cost to packaging on purchase.

Businesses have zero incentive make products easy to recycle.

If I recall, the only recycling success stories involve aluminum, glass, and perhaps paper. These are relatively easy to recycle, yet even these required financial incentives.


>Plastic clamshell containers are difficult to recycle because the material they’re made of is so flimsy—but it’s hard to find berries not sold in those containers, even at most farmers’ markets.

Yes, but it's easy to find farmers grateful to take them back for reuse. Same with those green plastic open baskets. Plastic produce bags can be brought back in a shopping bag for reuse by ourselves.

+1 for farmer's markets.


Whenever we're talking about mass transit, or communications, or trains, or pretty much any other piece of infrastructure, there are always lots of people saying that America can't do things like Europe does because it's huge, everything is dispersed, there are enormous low-density stretches, etc.

Where are all those people when the subject turns to garbage infrastructure? If you have so much empty space, take some of it and make a huge landfill! Put it in a desert or something. Make some hills out of garbage.

There's precedent, too. When the US government needed to test nuclear weapons, they got a big honking piece of desert and nuked it. When they needed an area with very low RF interference for some spy stuff, they found some low-density place and banned radios there. When they need to test artillery, desert again.


I'd bet one of the most immediate consequences is a lot less plastic winds up in the oceans. We know just a few rivers and cities account for nearly all ocean plastic, and I'd assume several of these are major routes for imported plastics.


Yeah I watched a documentary on what happens to the imported 'recycled' plastic, and stuff was blowing away in the wind, burning, kids were picking thru it by hand, etc. I'm not surprised that China would want to put a damper on the whole thing.


I bet I watched the same documentary, and I was overjoyed when China banned imports. The US and most western countries have spent a ton of money upgrading garbage dumps to have moisture barriers, large fences, and other containment features, and the plastic is much safer there than in the oceans.

To solve the problem: stop making the packaging/garbage.

It's not solved by working out what to do with all the packaging/garbage, it's solved by stopping making it.

"Recycling" is the distraction/sleight of hand that the packaging industry uses to make you feel OK with the infinite spew of garbage it creates. Finally China has shown the lie of recycling.

In your kitchen, if the water tap is gushing water onto the floor, you don't spend all your time focusing on how to mop up the water, you turn off the tap. Same thing.


I guess this might be an unpopular opinion, but I've never seen hard numbers proving that recycling is actually necessary. I am curious, what would be the consequences of simply digging big holes and burying all our rubbish? I understand that some of it generates greenhouse gasses, so that might have to be dealt with separately. But for general inert waste, is it that bad to just stick it in the ground?


In 1990, A. Clark Wiseman from Gonzaga calculated that if we dug a landfill 100 yards deep and put in all trash generated in the US for the next millennium, it would fit in a square area of land 35 miles on each side (assuming of course levels of consumption and disposal from the time). By point of comparison, replacing all existing energy sources with solar and wind power would require orders of magnitude more acreage. I'm not sure if most New Yorkers have ever seen a place like e.g. Nevada, but I'm not exactly worried about the amount of land needed for landfills.

New technologies allow landfill operators to extract some of the waste and use it for industrial purposes (particularly methane, with potent greenhouse emissions, albeit relatively short-lived). It also remains true that some forms of recycling - paper, cardboard and metals like aluminum or steel - are still cost effective, provided that the public stops trying to recycle their pizza boxes. I've often wondered if environmental policy would be better served by focusing on sorting high-quality, cost-effective recyclables into recycling plants and putting everything else into the landfill.

IMO, recycling has ceased being about - or perhaps never was about - economic efficiency or ecological health, and is mostly a cheap way for people to feel like they're doing the right thing. I have become somewhat skeptical about recycling, and even I feel the shame of being a heretic against pathos-laden gospel first preached in grade school for failing to throw a plastic bottle into the recycling bin.


Perhaps, in the near long term, this is good news? Now wasteful America can't avoid the results of its ways? Up til now, it's been out of sight, out of mind. Sure, recycling plastic feels good. But less plastic - a petroleum byproduct - period would be noticeably better.

Perhaps, once the price of disposal goes up (and landfills are NIMBY) then root problem will finally be addressed? Perhaps, there is finally hope?


The whole point was that we were supposed to be recycling, not using more fossil fuels to ship it all back overseas to be possibly just burned or buried anyways. And at best the recycled material is shipped yet again overseas back to us in the form of new products. The best thing that's come from all this is that we finally know what actually happens to all that 'recycled' material.


My understanding was that our trade deficit with China meant that we had to send more shipping containers back to China and we filled them with relatively light recycling waste instead of simply sending them back empty. It was basically free transportation.

But maybe that’s not be true.


There are endless 'convenience' obscenities built into the consumer interface that could easily be eliminated through legislation. Many 'solutions' were invented up to a century ago, then discarded over the years (for convience/profit).

Example: boxes of bottled water sold in separate plastic containers. Replacement: go to a water distributor with a 5-gallon re-useable container. 'Inconvenient' to the consumer? Tough bounce.

Milk bottles ... soda bottles ...

Example: Grocery stores used to pack groceries into boxes products were shipped in. 'Want plastic or paper?' NEITHER. Consumer may choose to bring in/rent re-useable crates.

And so on. There are -endless- working solutions that will eliminate the massive costs of creating all of this waste and of disposing of it. WE have let this happen, and WE deserved the consequences.


Example: boxes of bottled water sold in separate plastic containers. Replacement: go to a water distributor with a 5-gallon re-useable container. 'Inconvenient' to the consumer? Tough bounce.

Or maybe just raise the quality of tap water


California could raise a tax, let’s call it a “CRV” tax for container redemption value, and then use it to subsidize curbside pickup of pre-sorted recycling.

Seriously though, at the current 5-20 cents per container crv tax, how can recycling in California not be profitable for the state?

Where is that money going?!?


much of it goes to individuals who collect and sort the materials and bring them to recycling centers for a cash reward.

a lot of times, these individuals collect the materials from big blue bins consumers have carefully filled and placed at the curbside near their residences.

another place the money goes is to people in Arizona who gather plastics in that state and truck it across the border to cash in on California's generous recycling rewards program.


> Then there’s the challenge of educating people about what can and can’t be recycled

I have never lived anywhere where the local council has made any remote effort to do this properly. Surely they'll list a few common items that can and can't be recycled - like maybe 10 things. But people come into contact with a vast array of different items. 10 doesn't cut it.

They mention wire coat hangers - why can't they be recycled? I would have thought since they are metal they could easily be magnetically separated and melted down with all the other metal. No recycling box says whether or not you can recycle wire coat hangers so you just have to guess.


Cardboard/paper can go to EU and South America. Electronics can get mixed in with ore worst case. Best solution w electronics is grinding and separating them in house and reselling to rare earth refiners.


What about the idea of everyone having their own cup and water bottle that they take everywhere. If you want the drink to go and forget your cup, buy a new one at a high price or have it there.



I've wondered about this as well, I guess in land-constrained locations this could be advantageous, but AFAIK they are not energy-positive on their output.


There is hope for being able to recycle most plastic: https://purecycletech.com/


Alot of my Immediate family works for one of the largest trash pickup, dump, and recycling facilities in the Midwest you're kidding yourself if you think that recycling is keeping stuff out of the dump when they get overloaded with too much recycling which is about every 3 days everything goes to the dump most plastics go to the dump only about 10% of a really gets recycled.

Producers have to be made responsible for disposal. Perhaps a tax on the weight and type of material of the packaging minus recovered and reused materials.


It seems like the key is to get people to feel good about throwing things in the trash? There should be campaigns to "keep our recycling clean" and "when in doubt, throw it out".

Treating recycling as a moral issue may actually be making things worse, to the extent that encourages people to think that putting more stuff in the recycling bin is better.


Plastic: A real problem as burning it releases estrogens (more formally 'endocrine disrupters') into the air. However $1 bottle deposit and glass bottles seems entirely viable to me. Maybe a bit of an adjustment, but a hundred times smarter than burning.

Papers: As far as I know this can just biodegrade. Compostable, no?


I think it would be a fascinating problem use some combination of AI/robots/etc to design a hugely effective way to sort garbage. Even better if it was possible to do an army of tiny robots that would just go out and fetch all the garbage etc.


Off topic, but isn't it amazing that shipping garbage across many oceans is profitable?


Has anyone run across something that would work at the individual home level? A machine that sorts and cleans the plastic into small bales in your garage. Maybe something similar for paper and aluminum?


Maybe the US should have high tariffs on packaging materials to prevent their importation and force domestic manufacture.


We should only allow fully recycled plastic everywhere. Completely outlaw single-use plastic that can’t be easily recycled.

Everything else should be compostable. Everything else should have a fee associated with disposal. Things with dangerous chemicals like batteries, etc should have high amounts of returnable deposits.

Yes, it’s going to be expensive but it’s worth it.


It seems to me that landfill prices ought to be baked into the price of products sold.


This is one of those things that should be viewed as a long term opportunity rather than a short term problem.

The worst solution would be to just find another country to send the garbage. The best solution would be new technologies locally which would allow us to deal with garbage.


I'm hoping innovation happens.


Just dump all the sorted garbage in sorted landfills. Recycling may become economical again at some point. In any event, future technology will deal with it better.


I assume you are joking, but I liked the joke. (If it's not a joke, it's horrifying).


Got the robots on it


We consume too much. Driving out of my development on trash day shows me this. Bags and bags, boxes, loads of trash for a home of 4 people. Two adults, two children. I wonder what they’re going through?


its almost as if the invisible hand is encouraging us to be wasteful, to encourage growth, rather than efficient as we were all taught in primary school.

xattt 14 days ago [flagged]

I too heard the 99PI episode that cited this article.


Not only is your snark unnecessary, this article came out March 5 - after that episode.




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