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.
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.
In the 70s-80s, I carried camping stuff (cup, bowl and utensils). I got some resistance, with concern expressed about food contamination.
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?
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 have about $35 worth in my garage right now. I really need to take them back and get my money.
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.
Some of those old bottles are outright beautiful. Frosted where the rub together in crates.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
We're capable of shipping eggs very well in low grade recycled paper; there are surely ecological solutions for other foods to be found.
To me, that should be illegal without some kind of reuse program.
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.
Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide, though. So when it sublimates, the CO2 will go into the atmosphere.
>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.
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
But if you can, just post an ad on your local classified.
Some Ebayer will gladly jam garbage bags of them into their car.
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."
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.
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.
The technology exists and is in production. Here's a new 90 ton per hour recycling plant, from Bulk Handling Systems, in California. 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. 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.
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.
It just absorbs IR.
We should discourage them.
The scanners are cool since they’re analyzing the plastic itself; not reading codes.
By that, I mean discourage the black plastics, not the optical scanners!
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.
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.
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”
If Americans "are terrible at recycling" as the article says, then the incinerators will be burning the wrong stuff.
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 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.
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 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.
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?
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.
 most economical, accounting for externalities
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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've definitely seen facilities workers throwing everything into the same bag.
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.
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.
Still teaching the family though.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
People cause the problem by buying disposable goods. No business will produce something that nobody buys…
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).
It’s so religious that most people won’t even consider a debate about it. Anyone speaking out against it is a heretic.
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.
So if anything is a lie, it's single stream recycling.
There was even a simpsons episode where homer manages the local dump that becomes filled to capacity
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?
It’s hardly a modern problem. But in modern times we have added complications of sheer volume, toxicity, and lack of biodegradability.
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.
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.
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.
Has this even been studied? I find the claim astounding.
Without that it is very difficult to claim, with any credibility at all, being environmentally responsible.
I'm not optimistic.
1 - https://www.plasticchina.org/
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.
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.
Of course lifestyle change is an important part of any solution, but certainly not a panacea or even a desired exclusive remedy.
This is closer to "free market spirit", but creates a huge incentive to dump the garbage into the nearest river...
My biggest fear is that the cost of enforcement will greatly outweigh possible benefits.
In this sense taxing the "supply" side is much easier.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, once the price of disposal goes up (and landfills are NIMBY) then root problem will finally be addressed? Perhaps, there is finally hope?
But maybe that’s not be true.
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.
Or maybe just raise the quality of tap water
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?!?
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.
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.
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.
Papers: As far as I know this can just biodegrade. Compostable, no?
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.
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.