Wash your Trash! Is recycling working?

By Andy May

The recycling movement started in the 1970s and it has been very popular in Western countries. Participation varies with location, but in our small community of The Woodlands, Texas, over 90% participate in our curbside recycling program. However, the value of recycled materials has fallen dramatically in recent years because far too much unrecyclable material is put in the bins by the public and much of what is recyclable is contaminated with water, food, or other contaminates that make the “good” stuff unusable. Waste disposal companies often charge “contamination fees.” In addition to the contamination problem, the value of recyclables is going down and cost to process them into a usable form is going up. Processing, that is cleaning and sorting a load of recyclable material, has gone from earning a community $25/ton to costing the community $70/ton or more in many areas. In 2015 recycling was a revenue generator for Houston and other cities in the area. Bellaire, for example, generated $12,000 in 2015 from curbside recycling, but in 2017, they lost over $80,000 for the same program.

Paper and metals, especially aluminum, are the easiest and most valuable materials to recycle, but if they are stained with food or left-over beer or soda, they are rejected and wind up in the landfill anyway. Wet paper, even wet with water, often cannot be recycled. Paper stained with food cannot be recycled, this includes pizza boxes and juice boxes. For more details about what can be recycled and how the materials should be washed and prepared for recycling, see here. Be aware that recycling rules vary from place-to-place and that those I mention here may be different from those in your area. Follow your local rules. This lack of uniformity is confusing.

Glass is still recycled in some areas, but most reject all glass currently because non-recyclable glass items and dirty bottles are too commonly placed in the bins. Basically, any clean glass bottle or jar, intact, with a neck and lid can be recycled. But it must be clean and without any food contamination or it will be rejected, and the contents may contaminate other perfectly recyclable materials in the bin. This is also true of plastic bottles, tubs and jars, they must be very clean and have caps or lids. Only rigid plastic containers can be recycled, no film, no plastic bags and no scrap plastic. Yogurt, ice cream containers, etc. cannot be recycled, in fact all plastic covered paper and cardboard cannot be recycled. Milk bottles can be recycled, but they must be clean and still have the cap on them.

Some contamination in recycling bins is to be expected, but recycling companies and cities are severely penalized if more than 25% of the recycled materials are contaminated with food waste, water or other contaminants. This raises the cost of recycling dramatically and often causes communities to abandon recycling altogether.

China used to buy up to 70% of the world’s waste plastic, but they stopped taking it and this has caused the cost of recycling to go up dramatically. China stopped taking our recyclables because they were contaminated with “highly polluting” materials that were fouling their land, rivers and coasts. Even Vietnam, Malaysia, and some countries in Africa are limiting their imports of recyclables. They would welcome cleaner recyclables, but the contaminated portion of the loads wind up in local rivers and in the ocean, where they are not only unsightly, but they affect the fish and can causes disease.

So, what do we do with the 267 million U.S. tons of trash we generate each year? In 2017, the EPA estimates it was ultimately disposed of as shown in Figure 1. Notice that only 25% was recycled, this is after the contaminated garbage and unrecyclable materials were removed. Dry clean paper was 66% of the total and metals, like clean aluminum cans were 12%. Notice that plastic and glass are a very small fraction, although they provide most of the contamination. If you want to help the environment only put very clean, rigid plastic bottles, with their caps on, in the recycle bin. Glass must also be very clean, intact and have a lid.

Figure 1. U.S. waste and the destinations. Data from the EPA.

Roughly ten percent of our recycling, in the U.S.A., is composted. Most of this is yard and farm waste, the rest is mostly discarded food. Thirteen percent of the waste is incinerated in large industrial incinerators that recover some energy by generating electricity.

Incineration

As the quality of recycled materials has decreased, causing recycling costs to increase, incineration has become more popular worldwide. When western countries began exporting their trash, total world pollution did not decrease, it just moved to Africa and southeast Asia. It is no wonder that these areas rebelled. As noted above, for metal, plastic or glass to be recycled it must be intact and clean, when processed, whether in a foreign country or at home, huge amounts of water are required, this creates a lot of waste water that must be processed before it is discharged. It is this polluted wastewater that China objected to most, the recycling communities did not always process the wastewater prior to discharging it to the ocean or a river.

As explained by Mikko Paunio, in his GWPF report, Saving the Oceans, and the plastic recycling crisis, plastic, and most other so-called “recyclables” are not truly recyclable. For these materials, incineration is best according to Paunio (see pages 2-4 of the cited report). It is safer because it does not require the waste to be sorted and better for the environment because there is no wastewater from washing the trash. Modern incinerators generate electricity and collect the fly ash from incineration in bag houses, so it doesn’t enter the atmosphere and can be disposed of properly. The bottom ash, the ash that does not become airborne, can be processed to extract valuable metals. The process reduces the volume of trash to about 15%-20% of the original, it also kills harmful bacteria and reduces many pollutants to safe component molecules. Harmful air pollutant chemicals, like mercury, SO2 or carbon monoxide, can be trapped or converted into safe compounds in pollution control equipment and made harmless, just as they are in modern coal-fired power plants.

Once the ash is processed for valuable metals, it is taken to a landfill for disposal, but occupies only one-fifth or less of the space it would have occupied before it was incinerated, and the ash is safer for the environment. Some misguided politicians have crippled waste incineration with costly regulatory demands, to the detriment of their countries. The most egregious example was in Italy in 2000. They prohibited (in effect, through regulations) incineration of trash and as a result their landfills quickly filled up. That meant local trash haulers had to stop collecting trash and the only option was to burn it in the open air without pollution control equipment and the Campania region became heavily polluted with dioxins (Paunio, GWPF Note 16 2019, page 3). When considering incineration of waste, it is important to consider the alternatives and their effects.

Plastic in the Oceans

According to Paunio (Paunio, GWPF Briefing 32 2018) the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans is mainly due to plastic from China and southeast Asia. However, much of the plastic dumped in the ocean in Asia, originally came from the United States and Europe and was simply shipped to China and southeast Asia as “recyclable.” Only a fraction of the plastic disposed of in western countries and shipped to Asia could be recycled, the rest wound up in rivers and in the ocean. This was not the reason that Asia stopped receiving the plastic waste, however, the reason they stopped all or most of the shipments was the water pollution created by cleaning the trash that was already supposed to be clean.

Paunio calls the plastic pollution in the oceans a crisis, but he does not offer any evidence, he simply assumes the plastic in the oceans is a crisis. His focus is on alternatives to recycling plastic, as the recycling is not working. For a discussion of the ocean pollution problem itself, we turn to another report, the Analysis of Greenpeace’s business model and philosophy, by an international team of researchers (Connolly, et al. 2018, page 29). A tiny amount of microplastic fragments are present in most ocean basins.

For most of the oceans, the concentrations of microplastics are negligible and almost undetectable. In a few “ocean gyres” collections of plastic waste fragments are found in higher concentrations, perhaps up to a few hundred tiny fragments per square mile. Figure 2 shows all the fragments collected from one pass of a trawler through the heart of one of the so-called “Oceanic Garbage Patches,” in the South Atlantic Gyre.

Figure 2. All the plastic fragments collected in a pass, with a fine mesh net, through the South Atlantic gyre “Garbage Patch.” The largest fragment is less than 1.5 cm. across. They found 110 pieces in a 0.5-mile pass. All 110 pieces would not fill a thimble. (Connolly, et al. 2018, page 33).

Studies suggest that larger, more visible plastic bottles, nets, ropes etc. are from fishing boats. The microplastic is mostly from developing nations, especially Asian nations. The largest contributors to ocean plastics are China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Vietnam. Until the recent changes took effect, these countries were also the largest importers of recyclable plastics. As we can see the samples collected from the “Great Ocean Garbage Patches” do not support the media hyperbole.

Conclusions

While the idea of recycling is attractive, it has not been effective, nor has it helped the environment. If everyone were extremely careful about what they put in their recycle bins, washed it carefully, replaced the lids on jars and bottles, kept the paper that they recycled dry and clean, it might help. But, this is unrealistic, people will throw half-drunk sodas and beers into the bins, along with wet newspapers, soiled aluminum foil and plastic; then the mess must be sorted out, cleaned and most of it will go into the regular trash anyway. A common complaint among the recycling public is, “Why should I wash my trash?” The simplest answer is, “If you don’t it will not be recycled.”

The reason developing nations will not accept our recyclables anymore, is that they are dirty, and it takes too much water to clean them. The resulting wastewater, from cleaning the recyclables, is dangerously polluted and too expensive to prepare for discharge. Worse, in some countries the water used to clean the recyclables is not processed at all and discharged directly into rivers or the ocean with all the contaminants still in it. This fouls the rivers and oceans, endangers the fish and public health.

A worker in a recycling plant in Nairobi, Kenya sorts plastic bottles. Picture taken May 15, 2019 by Baz Ratner of Reuters.

Greenpeace and other environmental organizations are spreading nonsense about the supposed “ocean garbage patches,” when they are not a problem at all. Not to the fish, China, southeast Asia or the U.S., Japan and Europe. The problem is the wastewater created when we clean our trash or export it to other countries that must clean it. Even after cleaning, a lot of the plastic and glass cannot be recycled as it is the wrong kind. Recycling just is not working well.

Incineration is a far better solution. No sorting or wasteful cleaning is required, all trash can be burned safely in a very environmentally friendly way in modern incinerators equipped with proper pollution control equipment (Paunio, GWPF Briefing 32 2018, page 4).

References

Connolly, Michael, Ronan Connolly, Willie Soon, Patrick Moore, and Imelda Connolly. 2018. “Analysis of Greenpeace’s business model and philosophy, Greenpeace wants a piece of your green.” https://www.academia.edu/38956524/Analysis_of_Greenpeaces_business_model_and_philosophy.

Paunio, Mikko. 2018. Save the Oceans, Stop recycling plastic. GWPF, The Global Warming Foundation. https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2018/06/Save-the-oceans.pdf.

Paunio, Mikko. 2019. Saving the Oceans, and the plastic recycling crisis. GWPF, Global Warming Policy Foundation. https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2019/05/Paunio-Baselagreement.pdf.

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148 thoughts on “Wash your Trash! Is recycling working?

  1. If recycling made sense, companies would be paying us for our garbage.

    It’s just more eco-Marxist virtue-signalling.

      • In France we have to pay a direct tax contribution for garbage collection and recycling but the idiots will not let me into the tip because my vehicle is over 2m high. They say I have to go to a different facility where I will be charged ( again ) for the pleasure of giving them my carefully sorted waste.

        Guess where that is going to end up now.

        Anything which has scrap value I weight in, I’m certainly not making a gift of it to these a-holes.

        If you want to help the environment only put very clean, rigid plastic bottles, with their caps on, in the recycle bin. Glass must also be very clean, intact and have a lid.

        What is that about and where do you get this information? How does leaving the top on help? You seem to think all recycling programs are the same.

        Here they specifically ask that you remove all metallic lids and caps from glass jars and bottles but will now accept used oil bottles ( which they used to refuse to take ).

        • Greg,
          I’ve heard some communities want the lids removed, here they want them on to prevent contaminating the inside. This is noted in the post:

          Be aware that recycling rules vary from place-to-place and that those I mention here may be different from those in your area. Follow your local rules. This lack of uniformity is confusing.

          • in Aus its caps OFF and also the cap lock ring to be cut off as well
            Id buy less than 10 pet bottles a year and reuse them for garden waterers or my dogs use them as chewtoys. all glass jars are washed and kept for reuse with home made preserves.
            a roll of clingwrap lasts me well over a year, containers with lids are far better for storing etc.
            damned if I know how people filla bin a week. mine goes out one week in 3 and even then its not anywhere near full, just smelly enough to want it removed.
            cardboard boxes are flattened and used to make pathways or weed supressing with mulch over
            no green waste leave the property its just rotted or burnt and all goes back to the soil.
            styro boxes i collect for mini garden/veg etc
            clingwrap and used beyond use styro trays DO get used as firelightser as do all the junkmail crap saved over summer.

          • Since the “recycling” of glass here is accomplished by crushing it and putting it on the dead animal pit at the landfill, lids were removed and the glass broken as it fell into the recycling bins. I guess this counts as “recycling” though it’s more “repurposing” than recycling.

            Now they make $135 dollar plastic shoes out of plastic water bottles using a 3D printer. Personally, I wonder how many people would pay $135 for a pair of repurposed plastic shoes. The “manufacture” of the fabric for the shoes preparing the plastic for use in the printer much require a fair amount of energy. It keeps the bottles out of the rivers, but it does not save anything as far as energy. Great for virtue-signaling though.

          • Confusing is right! The reference link says to take caps off because they are usually polypropylene, a different plastic from a HDPE bottle. 2 liter drink bottles are even worse Polyethylene terephthalate vs PE.

            Polypropylene is a more valuable plastic than PE.

        • In Alaska they insist that you take the caps off the plastic bottles. My brother and i had saved bottles for two years to drive 400 miles to Anchorage–not only did they not pay you anything–you had to stand there and take off the caps! I just said, “nuts” and found a Walmart bin down the road.

          • Quite common to see guys on their bikes going through streets and ditches collecting bottles and cans that are returnable for deposit. They normally have many plastic bags full of items and I have seen them at beer stores cashing in. So, these people supplement their income and get lots of exercise!

            If you want something returned put a deposit on it though I doubt it will be washed.

      • “commieBob February 18, 2020 at 6:38 pm”

        In the UK many moons ago, my father (And I sometimes) used to spend hours and hours and hours on end stripping metal out of junk, predominantly non-ferrous metals like copper/brass/lead/aluminum etc and take huge bags full of the stuff to a scrap yard only to yield a few pence, maybe a couple of quid. To this day I often wondered how much value he placed on his time to do this because the effort and time consumed to extract the metals in a way that could be sold didn’t seem worth it to me.

      • The stupid people in my town pay an extra fee to recycle household goods. Separate bins are placed curbside. The waste trucks stop, load all bins at once and take everything to a landfill. At least they sleep well thinking they did something good for the environment.

        • That’s funny. Similar to the towns in Florida that decided farmers couldn’t burn tires to keep their trees warm any longer. So the town sanitation department gathered up all the tires from the farmers and took them to the land fill to be burned!

    • I’ve often surmised that we will eventually need to create totally recycled products. This was after seeing the garbage left by gypsies in Ireland, and aborigines in Oz. There was nearly always a circle of trash ‘exploding’ out from a centre where they had stayed.

      To me the reason was obvious, they had not had an extra generation or two to learn how to deal with trash, so didn’t yet understand how it needs to be handled. Previously, any trash was organic, so was not a problem.

      From there I realised that if we had very good 3d printing of materials, and a small number of appropriate materials, we could recycle these very easily. We would then just make all packaging from these materials alone, and probably some degradable ink or suchlike for marketing.

      It would take a few hundred billions of dollars to develop, but the concept would probably make much more money from selling the products to ‘woke’ manufacturers and retailers.

      I’d prefer a way to deal with plastics like burning for energy, but in time even that will end because it’s a finite resource.

      • Maybe Jeff Bezos could get some of his 10 billion in on this ground floor.

        (As noted previously, there are shoes made using 3D printers ot print the fabric. This whole thing is very “Star Trekkish” with it being a rudimentary version of the replicators.)

    • The obvious solution is buying commodities “in bulk” from bins, old-school, instead of heavily packaged.
      Also, everyone in the developed world has potable tap water, it’s perfectly possible to take a drink from same the 3-4 times a day when necessary. The “need” to stroll about with a plastic water bottle (these didn’t seem to exist prior to 1995!) is an affectation, not a biological necessity. Buy less wasteful, unnecessary packaging and you’ll have much less to throw away; a TANGIBLE benefit to the environment.

      • Also, everyone in the developed world has potable tap water

        Plenty if people in rural Australia don’t. I’m going for a proper filtration system to 1 micron, but it ain’t cheap. Until then, I need those plastic water bottles, unfortunately.

      • Goldrider that’ just not true, everyone in the developed world does not have potable tap water available:

        -Quality of water wildly varies if water is even available at all. Plenty of rural properties don’t have water anywhere on it so need water hauled in. I come from what’s considered a “wet” state but there’s a booming business in trucking water to residents. It’s also common to see water tanks in the back of pickup trucks for those who don’t want to pay someone else to haul their water.

        -Plenty of wells have an extreme amount of minerals present to the point it is undrinkable without filters or an osmosis system. As the systems are expensive many buy bottled water for drinking instead. If lucky you can get away with a relatively cheap water softener.

        -Plenty of city water is just as bad even when supposedly treated. I lived in a city with two wells. One well gave us water that was hard but drinkable (IMO but not to my better half) but had so many floaters in it no one dared drink without running it through a filter first. The second well was so heavily mineralized it would gag most people who tried to drink it. We bought a ZeroWater filter system for drinking/cooking with and it would flatline the filter in a week. The filters were not cheap but came out roughly to the same price as buying bottled water. Really lousy if you ask me because we were paying a hefty price for our monthly water bill already.

  2. Surely millions of people washing recyclables is less efficient than a plant that recycled and treated the water in a single location regardless of where it is. Plus if its toxic at the waste recycle plant, it will be toxic doing it at the household.

    p.s. agree incineration coupled with energy generation is the way to go.

      • I think you are right Scott, the energy and time which goes into washing sorting and transporting stuff is probably more than it is worth as a scrap material. I think one of the main objectives is reducing the massive landfill volume required to house all the garbage our current practices create.

        All the drinking water and hard plastic bottles alone occupy a massive volume.

        • The “massive landfill problem” isn’t. One account that I read had it figured that all the landfill generated by the USA for the next 100 years could be buried under just 1% of the nation’s grazing land – which would be just as useful after burying the waste as before.
          But Incineration is the absolute winner: no sorting, washing or shipping to scattered recycle sites. Just burn it all and use the clinker for building material if no one BUYS it to extract the metals. If the heat can be used for space heating (as in Scandinavia) or electricity generation, go for it – but K.I.S.S.

          • Penn and Teller did a video about exactly that. You’d be surprised at their findings.

            A lot of recycling consumes MORE energy and resources.

          • dollops: Agreed. Our landfill buries wind turbine parts–huge wind turbine parts. They have plenty of room for those. I gave up recycling thereafter because the landfill obviously has more room than it knows what to do with.
            (Except aluminum, which I can sell directly to the recycler.)

            Some things–like those blasted turbine parts–don’t incinerate easily and may be toxic. A lot of composite materials are like that. Use landfills for those items, burn the rest.

    • Many people let their dishwashers take care of their dishes, but wouldn’t dream of using them to clean used tin cans and bottles. Besides, most dishwasher detergents are ineffective anyway.

      • In Italy they are quite obsessed with recycling. When I’m there I often put plastic containers and glass jars in the dishwasher if there is spare capacity. Since they hang around in the apartment for up to a week anyway (the same bin is used for different recycling on different weekdays), it makes it cleaner for me too.

    • Scott, I’ve heard from others that their community requires the bottle caps and lids to be taken off. Here they ask for them to left on to prevent contaminants from getting into the bottles and jars. Every place is different which makes the process more difficult to understand. I just don’t think recycling will survive.

      • You’re dreaming. The green idiots who finally forced mandatory recycling on nearly every town will never admit they were wrong and allow bean counters to discredit them. Brazen it out to the bitter end, just as the solar and wind power charlatans must do.

    • I had the same thought. Even though water is plentiful in BC, most municipalities charge for water used and some communities like Victoria have very sketchy water treatment. Private homes are not going to recycle the water used to wash garbage and toxins are going to go straight into waterways. It is really hard to see how home owners washing garbage makes economic or environmental sense.

      • And time.

        If you use a dishwasher and have spare capacity it’s no problem, I find.

        In Oz my place has no piped water, so in the dry season (maybe 8 months) I don’t waste water or I have to buy extra.

  3. Recycling is a first-order forcing of [catastrophic] [anthropogenic] climate cooling… warming… change.

    China used to buy up to 70% of the world’s waste plastic

    Environmental arbitrage. Straws in the ocean and other Green hazards.

    Perhaps Nature is best suited to to reduce, reuse, and recycle through green processes, including: brush fires, evolution, pathogens, etc.

  4. Does anyone know what products are made from recycled plastics – here and abroad? Are new soda bottles made from recycled PET, or new milk bottles from recycled polyethylene? Are there any recycling plants in the U.S?

    • Much of it turns into Engineering items. Bollards, hand rails, wheel stops, walkway treads ect. Others turn into soft matting like what you’ll find about playgrounds.

    • “Does anyone know what products are made from recycled plastics – here and abroad?”

      I’ve seen the same commercial numerous times where two shirtless dipwads will sell you a bracelet made of processed garbage. It seems the proceeds will help them continue to travel the world and clean up the ocean plastics.

    • navy bob: Sam’s Club or Walmart had reusable bags made from recycled plastic for a while anyway. Then there’s the overpriced shoes advertised on TV now (Rothy’s). Beyond that, I have no ideas.

      I have not seen any giant read-me banners on soda or milk containers proclaiming how virtuous the company is using recycled plastics, so I doubt that’s a use. Even when companies do use recycled material, it’s often only 20% or less of the actual materials used. Cardboard boxes are often labeled as to how much recycled cardboard is in them.

    • Navy Bob ==> Here in my area (New York State) there are a lot of benches and tables for parks using “2×4″s made of recycled plastics.

      • Plasma incineration presumably refers to what’s also known as a fusion torch. It doesn’t burn things—at 30,000 degrees F it converts all molecules to elements, so there’s no smoke, and the gases emitted burn in the upper part of the chamber, providing enough heat to power the torching process and an excess to be turned into electricity and sold. The rest of the input falls to the ground as a sort of sand that can be used as in concrete.

        This is described in the book, Prescription for the Planet. (The author is in Russia overseeing the installation of one of these torches, at the invitation of its government.) There are three or four U.S. companies that make this torches—the most expensive model is the best.

        There are, however, some emissions, which greenies object to, so permitting is more or less of a pain, depending on the locality.

  5. Well, there was thermo-depolymerization, but the envirofascists found out, and whipped up some complaints…

  6. Here’s a title: “Incineration is getting in the way of recycling and zero waste”.

    I didn’t even bother to read the article. The title tells me everything I need to know. I think recycling is a lot like Marxism. It is great. It is wonderful. It is the solution to all of humanity’s problems. The only reason it hasn’t worked is that people aren’t doing it right.

    For a long time Taoists tried to achieve immortality using potions containing mercury and lead. When it didn’t work, the excuse was, “The deceased didn’t do it right.” It took hundreds of years to figure out that there was no right way to dose yourself with heavy metals. In that regard, Marxism is a lot like heavy metal poisoning.

    Does recycling work? Absolutely.

    … only about 0.7 trillion pounds … (of copper) have been mined throughout history… and nearly all of that is still in circulation, because copper’s recycling rate is higher than that of any other engineering metal. link

    The mistake is to think that just because recycling is highly successful for some things, it will work for everything.

  7. You cannot tell me that a bottle or can “stained” with beer is not recyclable. Water is not a contaminant either. If trash has to be sparkling clean before it can be entered into a recycle process, the process is BROKEN. Fix the process.

    There is a cost to producing new materials. There is a cost to stockpiling trash in landfills. If those costs are less then the recycle costs, then don’t recycle – eventually the cost to recycle will come down or the commodity price will go up and recycling will happen because someone somewhere will figure out how to make a profit.

    The amount of clean drinkable water I am wasting on cleaning each bottle, plastic container, and can is ridiculous. I have often wondered why this is not discouraged when there seems to be perpetual water-shortages caused by overbuilding new housing and under-building new water reservoirs.

    • I will go as far as a quick rinse. I’m not going to be putting hand inside and wiping or applying detergent.

      If plastics need washing ( and most do ) that has to be more resource and cost-effective on an industrial scale, not in the kitchen sink.

        • “you do the dishes and the use the same water to rinse bottles n cans = no extra used”

          And don’t forget to treat the additional use of your limited time that you’re “donating” by law.

    • I don’t understand how food makes aluminum and other metals unrecyclable. Wouldn’t the heat required to melt the metals burn off all food particles?

      • The quality control on raw materials used for manufacture is quite precise and ‘near-enough’ is simply not good enough. This applies to simple items such as glass (clear, brown, blue, green) for storage containers or windows or drinking glasses or prescription glasses, etc.. Or something such as aluminum (aka aluminium) … which is rarely used in its pure form in manufacture but is alloyed with one or more other metals such as magnesium, zinc, silicon, lithium, etc. and in specific concentrations and ratios.

    • Robert of Texas, beer, soda or pure water damage paper and cardboard so they cannot be recycled even when dried. The water causes the fibers to shorten and become unusable. You are correct, the water used to clean your trash is often worth more than the recycling, this is particularly true of glass and plastic. Aluminum cans should be rinsed well before putting in the bin. Paper is valuable, but just make sure it has no food and has never been wet. Recycling is probably only worth the trouble for aluminum and paper, see the table in the post.

      • Our “blue bin” recycling program often results in pools of water in the bottom of the bin. Also, the collection process is not very gentle, and my bin now has only half of a lid. Now all recycling gets covered in rain water and snow. Good job city bureaucrats.

  8. Andy May – I have no problem with incineration and energy generation from rubbish. As long as it releases minimum pollutants and recovers some or all of the costs, then I am all for it. Maybe it is the best solution overall.

    However, I find many of the statements in your article about the need for purity of the ‘recyclables’ hard to accept at face value. I would have thought that removing impurities must be a normal part of plastic, glass, and paper (and I assume you include cardboard here) recycling. I can’t imagine that any but a tiny percentage of recyclables arrives at the plant without some contamination, so a purification process must be necessary. Aren’t all of these products originally produced from more complex and ‘dirty’ sources that must be purified?

    I can understand that this may increase the cost so that it may no longer be profitable or that we need to be concerned about the discharge of untreated waste water, but I find it hard to believe that we do not have the technology to process dirty plastic, glass, and plastics.

    • Polymers are produced from highly pure monomers. When made into consumer products, several components are added, labels of various materials, inks, paint, prints, different types of plastics and metals. Then, if they are used for packaging the contents which they hold are another source of contamination.

      Of course we have the technology to process all sorts of materials but at what cost? Incineration, and gasification in some cases, makes sense, especially for power generation. But to be honest, I would rather live closer to a fracked well than an incinerator.

    • DaveW, Contamination and cleaning were the problems that led to China banning their recycling processors. The contaminants and the waste water from cleaning were very dangerous and causing health problems. It wasn’t a cost issue, it was the environmental damage and the pollution. For recycling to ever work, we have to clean our recyclables at home, before they go in the bin. Otherwise, no one in the world will want them.

      • “we have to clean our recyclables at home, before they go in the bin”

        Doesn’t that mean the contamination will go into our cities’ sewage systems then?

  9. I live in Pima county, not the City of Tucson, so I have to pay a contract service for rash pickup. Used to have Waste Management, but for last 3 years I’ve had Republic Services. Since 1 January the same truck is dumping both my recycle container and waste container into its hopper.
    I’m Ready to query-challenge them why they are charging a “recycle fee” on my quarterly statement when it arrives.

    I could care less if my small amount of bottles and cans goes to recycle or to a landfill. I just shouldn’t be charged a “recycling fee” for my pickup service to pocket if my recycle container stuff is going into the landfill dump with my regular waste.

    • Joel: That’s actually quite common. People often report the recycling trucks dumping the “recyclables” into the same landfill space or baler as all other trash. I’ve seen it. Same for that red-tagged medical waste. The red bags appear only to alert the trash removal people of the contents, not to actually separate the bag from all other trash.

      It’s called “government money taking” and it’s a very popular sport these days. It’s pretty much useless to fight it unless you live where there’s a chance of honest, intelligent people being elected in sufficient numbers to reign this in (odds of an asteroid hitting the earth in the next hundred years are probably higher…).

  10. I’m NOT, NOT, _NOT_ going to wash the garbage so that it can go into the recycling bin. This year has been different, but for the last 5-6 years, water has been scarce and conservation has been encouraged. “Brown is the new green”, they say, when it comes to lawns.

    • Yep , I’m sure washing has to be more economical done at an industrial scale. Handwashing garbage is ridiculous.

      • When food residue has been inside a bottle for months in all kinds of weather it is dried on and mouldy, almost impossible to clean out with vigorous hand cleaning and bleach, etc.
        No automated process will remove it.
        I learned this from home wine and beer making. The longer you leave it the worse it gets.

    • Ken and Greg, If you don’t wash something, put it in the regular trash. If you put it in the recycle bin it will just contaminate the “good” stuff.

      • The only thing I bother recycling any more is cardboard not associated with food. If it has some cat hair on it, well TFB.

  11. In the Netherlands professor Raymond Gradus explains that machines are better in separating trash than people can. Machines know which kind of plastic can be reused, people don’t. It is far cheaper to use machines and you don’t need all those bins for separated trash everywhere in the street. “The machine is able to work cheaper, it is better for the environment and it is much more convenient for the consumer.” He refers to scientific research on the subject. The infrastructure needed for collecting separated trash is also very expensive.
    Source (in Dutch) https://www.nporadio1.nl/natuur-milieu/20266-machines-recyclen-beter-dan-mensen

    • It’s not about efficiency. It’s about forcing people to perform meaningless rituals for Gaia.

      I remember a fuss when I lived in the UK and people discovered that, after all the work they did to separate ‘recyclables’, the council just tossed all the junk together in a container and shipped it to China so the Chinese could throw it into the sea.

  12. Build mountains of trash. Cover with vegetation. Install slides. Charge fees to enjoy the slides. Repeat over and over. An all around winner.

  13. Water a contaminate? LOL …. is that why the recycle bin I dump my cardboard in is “ out in the weather” so it can get rained on. What a bunch of rubbish!

    I too am an advocate for burning the crap, and that would include the literal crap, in an electric generation system. Recycles it all …. CO2 for the plants, minerals in ash for the plants, metals can be recovered, and pollutants easily captured.

  14. I have often wondered if the environmental costs in water wastage of washing a peanut butter jar, or soaking the label off of a pickle jar and then shipping it half way around the world is higher than the gain from not making a new peanut butter or pickle jar from virgin material, or using the recycled material in some secondary product. When this washing and sorting activity is spread over thousands of households, the efficiency goes down even more and that’s not even considering the labor opportunity cost (after all, those hours spent recycling could be usefully spent demonstrating against capitalism and the like). This article seems to dispel my wonder. All of my eco-trash-sorting virtue is an utter waste of time, which I always knew anyway.

    What an absurd, fact free, world.

  15. Some Australians have developed a process to turn plastics, regardless of type back into a type of petroleum. Videos can be found on YouTube.

    • Stu,
      I’m curious. Do you happen to know how much fossil fuel energy is used in getting those plastic bottles to the factory and in turning them back into petroleum and how many barrels of oil you get per unit of fossil fuel used to do this? Also, how many barrels of petroleum are obtained from how many pounds of plastics? One would think someone has done the math on this, maybe.

  16. Most material recycling, like buying electric cars, building wind turbines, installing solar panels, paying ‘carbon’ offsets and believing in CAGW is nothing more than the Elite, signalling to the great Unwashed that they, the Spiritually Clean, are the true Elite worthy of Redemption. If people want your recycling, they will offer to pay you for it (Any Old Iron?).

  17. Big issue with recycling paper here in Temple, TX. Any paper placed in our curbside recycling container must be loose, not in plastic bags that could keep the paper clean and dry. Here is the rub. Many years ago when Temple first bought individual plastic trash containers for each household they were heavier and had a flat lid that stayed in place (for the most part) during storms and strong winds. The newer trash and recycling containers are lighter weight and have a domed type of lid. These domed lids seem to act a bit like an airfoil. During strong winds the lid can lift. Once air gets underneath the lids they can open completely. So if the wind is accompanied by rain all of the recyclable paper inside gets wet and is ruined.

    • Or I’d imagine the paper is just blown away, if they don’t allow you to bag it.

      In italy they refuse to take bagged recycling if it is not in a see through bag, because if it isn’t visible they don’t know what it is. That does make sense.

  18. Landfill garbage will create methane that can be captured and burnt as a fuel. Fortis Inc is capturing some of this and mixing it with NG and then they mix it in to fossil NG as renewable gas. If it allows us to keep using NG, then I will tolerate a little bit of higher priced renewable gas to quit all the yapping.

    And the residual can be dug up in 100 years and ‘mined’. Future technologies will make this more feasible than now and it will be worth more in the future. Personally, I support just burning whatever can be burnt for electricity production right now. Even in Grater Vancouver, BC in the adjacent city of Burnaby, (aptly named) they have a waste to incineration plant right in the city. According to Metro Vancouver, the Burnaby facility incinerates 280,000 tonnes of waste a year, or just over 20 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s total, and produces 16.7 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 16,700 homes. Here are a few good fact links…

    https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/engineeringinsociety/chapter/metro-vancouver-waste-incinerator-waste-to-energy-facility/

    http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/solid-waste/SolidWastePublications/WTEFactSheet.pdf

    • Sewage treatment plants can be used in the same way. Back in the 80s when I worked for IBM at Havant Plant in the UK in the drive to reduce costs methane from the treatment plant was piped in to the factory to reduce heating costs (It was a very big factory).

  19. It was called “recycling” to give trash collection a better sheen. Recycling was instigated to get bottles and cans off the streets and out of sight. Yes some high volume waste materials …. notably plastics …. are recycled but not enough to even dent what is produced. I’ve read that it takes more time and energy to recycle glass than to make it. Some day recycling glass and plastic will be profitable but not today.

    • Glass (beer, wine, milk, fizzy drink bottles and jam jars) were designed to be, and were, recycled by sterilizing and refilling them; people used to collect them for their returnable deposit. Now, in the UK they are put in “recycling” bins where they are smashed and ground down. There were “rag and bone men” who would pay for your useful trash and every house, at least in rural areas has a pig bin. Clothes were passed down in the family and then passed on to said rag and bone men.

      Seems to be that “recycling” (like many other words in this post science modernistic society) has been redefined.

      • The good old days, remember them well. Talking of re-using beer bottles, ever been to Ethiopia? You see crates of them were you can see wear marks around the edges of the bottles that rub up against other bottles and the plastic in the crates.

      • Taking it a step back further, many of us remember washing out our empty milk bottles and putting them outside for the milkman to collect before providing the next few days order in recycled bottles cleaned and sterilized at the dairy.
        Even before deposits, I recollect amber beer bottles that were turning gray with outside wear scratches.

  20. Dr Deanster I have written to several Polies and asked them to consider this obvious solution and have not had a single answer. Our real problem is them.

  21. Germany recycling rate is above 70% and has been for years. If anything it is increase because it
    is a strong part of their culture. In the US the culture is different and so the response is lower. There is
    a “throw-away” culture responsible for things like non-replaceable batteries in mobile phones that
    makes recycling,reuse or repair of consumer items almost impossible.

    • The German greens have done so well they pay three or four times more for their electricity than we do in Texas. There also seem to be a lot of German companies opening plants and offices here in Texas, in fact I’ve seen a bit of an increase in German arrivals.

      • So…. when are we going to get good German restaurants and delis here in the Heart of Texas? And especially, good Jewish deli and restaurant? My kingdom for a really good Ruben sandwich.

  22. In the 1980s we had a large timber/paper/pulp Mill subsidiary. It was well known to them then that paper recycling was a difficult concept because (1) the paper recycle was best with pure, little used paper of common texture like offcuts from printing presses and (2) the fibres that make new paper degrade with each additional recycle because of chemical and mechanical damage and are of dubious value after 3 recycles.
    Recycling is essentially a virtue signalling operation in many cases and it is not often economically viable compared with purpose incineration.
    We had a metal smelter at end of life that I modelled for mixed city waste incinerator use. Freight cost was crippling unless next to the source, like in a major city.

  23. Methinks I see price gouging by the waste haulers. Rebid the contracts every three years.

    Why not send all the container recyclables through a coarse shredder then counter-rinse wash the mess, then sort the washed chips? ‘There are many sorting techniques suitable for automation, and the wash water would be municipal wastewater which is easily recycled.

  24. What we’re probably seeing here is the inevitable destination of Enforced recycling. The volumes of material now available for recycling have had the entirely predicable effect of driving down the value of anything that was recyclable for profit, and has probably allowed the processors of such material to become fussy about what they take.

    We’re probably at the stage where it only makes economic sense to recycle aluminium, but the boondoggle has resulted in public money being lavishly invested in collection and sorting which has created a glut of material that when recycled merely creates what nobody wants.

    Faced with what has turned out to be a Squander Bug, local authorities now have to place the blame for what has turned out to be a pointless exercise upon the shoulders of those that were forced to pay for it.

    • Great process Steven, but checking every two hours and daily pickup? Very expensive and time consuming. I congratulate the Koreans, but doubt their process is exportable.

      • Just based on reality, I would guess that despite the record amount of “recycling” in Korea, the end results are the same as the US as noted in the original post.
        Also, just for fun, internet search the history of the Chicago recycling program.

        Recycling don’t mean a thing if it’s all based on myths.

        • “Actually not that expensive, otherwise it would not work.
          Poor folks need work too.”

          You are adding a cost to recycling to make it even more expensive and inefficient.

          Maybe we should send the garbage to prisons for free labor to sort and clean.

    • BWAHAHAHA !!!
      The apartment complex has several people that “monitor residents” to make sure they are recycling correctly.
      Won’t give a click to wiki-lies and the video does not address any of the issues in the original post about the fundamental problems with “recycling”.

      • In Steven’s ideal world, everyone would be closely monitored to make sure they only do things that government has pre-approved.

        • From Steve:
          “when you try to solve the problem with the market, don’t be surprised when companies get picky about what trash they will buy.”

          Yup, just like you said !!

      • They also help you if you cant tell the difference between paper and plastic.
        After two years would it amaze you to find out that people can actually put cans
        in the can bin!!
        go figure!!

        As for the problems with recycling. Well, we don’t have them. Counter example is the best retort.

        go figure if you grow up being able to ship your trash around the world, don’t be surprised when
        countries stop taking your shit.

        when you try to solve the problem with the market, don’t be surprised when companies get picky about what trash they will buy.

  25. The “massive landfill problem” isn’t. One account that I read had it figured that all the landfill generated by the USA for the next 100 years could be buried under just 1% of the nation’s grazing land – which would be just as useful after burying the waste as before.
    But Incineration is the absolute winner: no sorting, washing or shipping to scattered recycle sites. Just burn it all and use the clinker for building material if no one BUYS it to extract the metals. If the heat can be used for space heating (as in Scandinavia) or electricity generation, go for it – but K.I.S.S.

  26. My recycling needs me to sort it into several useless containers which give us a serious storage problem. As it rains a lot in the UK everything is wet. It is very difficult to find out what is actually recycled, and the answer by the Government is a “landfill tax” which keeps going up. Costs of collection is very large, and because the operatives have to put each item into bins causes serious traffic problems. I have a feeling that the wages and fuel and capital cost of the lorries is way more than the value of the recycling, so why do we do it? I do have direct experience of “green waste” recycling, a large scale composting of food waste and garden (yard) rubbish. It was nowhere near an effective and profitable business because no one wanted to buy the thousands of tonnes of compost, and the biggest problem was that the council made the process very difficult due to the smell and other “environmental” factors. It also needed a great deal of very expensive water and expensive runoff processing! It has to be just virtue signalling, has anyone ever seen anything on the economics of recycling published?

    • David Stone, a few years ago when China was still importing most of our recycling it was profitable for Waste Disposal companies to recycle and for the communities they served. But it all changed when China and other countries couldn’t deal with the pollution resulting from treating (basically cleaning) the recyclables. Now, recycling costs extra over regular trash, sometimes by a lot. Thus, incineration is now viable.

      • You keep writing about the “pollution” created by cleaning recyclables. How does cleaning the residual jelly or salad dressing from a plastic bottle or glass jar create dangerous pollution?

        • By the time the plastic waste had been containered from the US, EU or elsewhere to China, Malaysia, Indonesia or Vietnam the “residual jelly or salad dressing” had become a toxic mix of degraded chemicals containing a bacteriological nightmare including pathogens and their soluble toxins which are not easy to remove from large volumes of wash. However clear the instructions and whatever the penalties imposed, compliance at source will never be 100%. We are but human.

          Incineration in properly controlled power plants (not on foreign beaches and riverbanks) is the solution. I would also include the dried sludge from sewage works, currently spread on agricultural land in many countries after “processing”. This is the source of microplastics from washing laundry which will become a far greater problem for humanity and the environment than plastic bottles washing up on beaches.

    • Growing up in the UK in the 1950s and 1960s we had Re-usable lemonade (soda) bottles. These glass bottles had a deposit of 3d which was refunded or deducted from next purchase. Small and not so small children collected discaerded bottles for the deposit value. Dairies delivered milk in Re-usable bottles, in town delivered by electric milk float. In the country you took the bottle back to the shop. Most people rinsed the bottles out. H&S probably has something to say about re-use.

      I think the schemes in the EU for a cash deposit/return will actually work, budding child entrepreneurs will use the refund as capital for investment. Cleaning up the area at the same time.

      • “Most people rinsed the bottles out. H&S probably has something to say about re-use.”

        Every bottling plant thoroughly washed and sterilized the bottles before refilling.

        Back then, recycling meant recycling. Even cans were crushed flat and sent to smelters for reuse.
        Nowadays, it means it is someone else’s problem, usually not a recycler. Just someone who figures to make money from storing/forwarding the trash.

        • “Even cans were crushed flat and sent to smelters for reuse.”

          About four years ago I talked to a lady executive at Waste Management. She told me that they no longer recommend flattening cans, because bits of glass can get stuck in them, and that when many cans are melted, even a bit of glass ruins ruins the whole batch.

          She also told me that loose tin can lids are hard for the magnets over their conveyor belts to pick out. So I now put all my lids into a wide empty tomato can whose own lid is still attached by a hinge. When full, I press down its lid and discard it into the recycling bin.

          Incidentally, there are bottle scrapers (search for them on Amazon) consisting of a stick with a silicone scraper at right angles to it at its end that I use to easily extract most of the hard-to-get contents from cans and bottles, so I waste less. This makes ones “recyclables” less gunky too. If one rinses them, as I do, less water is needed.

  27. “Paper and metals, especially aluminum, are the easiest and most valuable materials to recycle, but if they are stained with food or left-over beer or soda, they are rejected and wind up in the landfill anyway.”

    Clearly not true for metals, whereby the recycling process smelts then at very high temperatures, volatilizing any leftover residues.

  28. Wash your garbage.
    I chuckle every time I see/hear/ or do that and think about my deceased grandmother that grew up on a farm where the livestock had running water and the house didn’t.
    She certainly never spent much time washing her garbage.

  29. “Basically, any clean glass bottle or jar, intact, with a neck and lid can be recycled.”

    Why?
    Glass jars/bottle usually have metal or plastic caps… And this is what recyclers demand? That incompatible components be securely attached to each other?
    Absurd!

    “Milk bottles can be recycled, but they must be clean and still have the cap on them.”

    “must be clean…”
    I’m sorry, exactly which industrial process never “cleans” the incoming materials?

    Across the industrial/farming landscape, washing incoming materials is always a part of the process.

    What the recyclers are really stating is that food contaminated materials attract insects, rodents, dogs, raccoons, ursus and other often fierce critters.
    And that the recyclers want to maximize their profits, so all of this material must be washed in the most inefficient means/methods possible; by people in their homes focusing on one isolated product at a time.

    “If you want to help the environment only put very clean, rigid plastic bottles, with their caps on, in the recycle bin. Glass must also be very clean, intact and have a lid.”

    Deal killer.

    A) My dog occasionally gets into the recycling. He loves plastic bottles as they crunch so noisily satisfyingly.
    Trouble is, if the bottle has a lid one, it is the first thing he chews off; and frequently swallows.

    I pull the lids off everything and I frequently clip that little circle of plastic around the neck that signifies opened/unopened.

    i) The lids on bottles and jars are usually incompatible with the bottle or jar. i.e. they are completely different product streams and definitely contaminate the recycled product.
    ii) Why lid on? Because the recyclers do not want mosquito breeding places!
    iii) The question is why do not recyclers shred or crush bottles and jars immediately? We’re back to the profit motive… The recyclers are not in the business of recycling; they are in the business of store and sometimes forward.

    ” As noted above, for metal, plastic or glass to be recycled it must be intact and clean, when processed, whether in a foreign country or at home, huge amounts of water are required, this creates a lot of waste water that must be processed before it is discharged. It is this polluted wastewater that China objected to most, the recycling communities did not always process the wastewater prior to discharging it to the ocean or a river.”

    Cart, meet horse.
    Efficient centralized controlled cleansing versus inefficient highly variable distributed cleaning.

    Nor have I seen many industrial processes where “home washing” meet the high consistent controllable standards of “industrial washing”.

    • ATheoK,
      Some communities (mine is one) want the lids on to prevent contaminating the interior of the bottle or jar. That way they only need to clean the outside, if anything is inside the bottle or jar, it cannot get out and contaminate the rest of the bin of recyclables. Other communities want the lids removed, it varies with the recycle facility.

      Your comment and many others like it in this comment section, simply confirm my suspicion that general recycling has no future. Incineration is best. Perhaps we can continue to recycle dry high quality paper, aluminum, batteries, appliances and electronics, but in the future recycling will be very limited. Given the reluctance of the public to properly prepare their trash for recycling and to understand what can be recycled and what cannot, it will not work. Just my opinion.

      • “Perhaps we can continue to recycle dry high quality paper, aluminum, ”

        About ten (?) years ago soda makers came out with thin steel cans, which cost them less than aluminum. But greenies forced them to go back to aluminum, lest the value of recyclables decline so much as to make recycling obviously uneconomic.

    • “And that the recyclers want to maximize their profits, so all of this material must be washed in the most inefficient means/methods possible; by people in their homes focusing on one isolated product at a time.”

      yup.

  30. The UK has a landfill tax invented by the EU because landfill is not possible in the Netherlands and so the morons who run our country keep making it more and more difficult to dispose of waste – and more expensive. The UK is seeing a big increase in fly tipping – I wonder why? And of course, instead of looking at the cause of the problem – and repealing the legislation now that we have left the EU – councils are going to spend more of our money to clear up the problem they have created which will probably mean increasing waste disposal costs so that there is more fly tipping. One interesting fact that I did learn recently was that the landfill directive is part of the Single Market too. This means that the non-EU members chose to accept it but didn’t have to and had the UK taken the sensible option to remain in the Single Market while working on an improved relationship with the EU, we could have dropped the landfill tax by using article 112.

  31. In many ways, the home recycling effort is a “feel-good” exercise..If we took a serious look at the amount that winds up in landfills versus what is actually recycled most people would question why we even bother.

  32. There is something wrong with the idea that metal cans must be clean of all trace of food. The same can has a coating on the inside and outside. In the case of an aluminum pop or beer can, the coating is a greater portion of the mass than the aluminum. So it does not make sense that the same process that melts the can with the applied coating can’t handle the trace of food. And the same places that are supposed to require food free metal cans are recycling paint coated aluminum siding or steel in the form of shredded cars. The idea that metal needs to be free of all trace of food when all these other contaminants are not a problem just doesn’t make sense.

    • Tomg,
      At least here, in my city, any plastic coated metal or paper is rejected and not recycled. It is thrown in the landfill, food stained or not.

  33. “… much of the plastic dumped in the ocean in Asia, originally came from the United States and Europe and was simply shipped to China and southeast Asia as “recyclable.”

    Thank you for confirming what I had long suspected. The plastic “ocean garbage patches” are our recycling. Want to get rid of it? Stop plastic recycling programs.

  34. In 2019 Vermont passed the most extensive recycling law in the US. Starting in 2020, single use plastic bags and Styrofoam food containers will be banned. All eligible materials (the usual suspects) are sent to a “single stream” facility in Rutland. Food scraps must be composted (all business and residential).

    I’m lucky enough to live in a town which charges age 62+ residents $7/year for a transfer station sticker, plus they will take any old electronics for free. All the recyclables are dumped into a compactor, black garbage bags into a separate compactor. Most of the glass breaks up when it hits the steel floor of the compactor.
    We generally put all our food scraps in a composter and then let the bears have at it.

    I have no idea where the end product winds up, probably a landfill somewhere.
    Will be shopping more next door in New Hampshire where they have not encountered this level of silliness yet.

  35. Andy ==> I don’t believe there is any evidence for this accusation: “However, much of the plastic dumped in the ocean in Asia, originally came from the United States and Europe and was simply shipped to China and southeast Asia as “recyclable.”

    The ISWA reports present only vague suspicions that some of the plastic waste exported to China “leaks” into the environment because of poor or unregulated handling there. There is NO evidence presented of active intentional “dumping”.

    It is true, however, that the majority of oceanic plastic comes from Asia and Africa — as well as a substantial amount from almost all coastal 3rd World Countries. Very little, overall, from USA, Canada, and Europe.

    • Hi Kip,
      Greenpeace is not a reliable source, but this is what they say:

      “The imported waste is often not processed correctly but dumped or burned in essentially unregulated ways, in violation of international agreements. Criminal actors in Southeast Asia have abused the inability of legal operators and failure of authorities to cope with the increased imports to make quick, dirty money.”

      The report is called The Recycling Myth. I’ve spent a lot of time in China and the story rings true to me. There is not much difference between companies and criminal organizations. Here is a link to the report. https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-southeastasia-stateless/2019/04/7c9f822c-7c9f822c-the-recycling-myth-malaysia-and-the-broken-global-recycling-system.pdf

      • Andy ==> Yes, I agree — but “dumped” in a landfill and dumped in the sea (or river) are two entirely different ideas and have totally different consequences.

        There is No Doubt that troublesome, un-recyclable materials are simply land-filled in China — and that some of them go into unofficial landfills.

        As you know from your own 3rd World experiences, plastics often end up on the streets, as litter and spilled trash, and then are washed by rains and floods into the rivers and thus to the sea.

        I think that the persistent rumors and accusations of “dumping at sea” are probably false. No one has ever found one of the giant bales of plastics at sea.

        • “No one has ever found one of the giant bales of plastics at sea.”

          Well you don’t want to make your illegal activity too obvious, do you? You break the bands and then you dump it in the river.

          ” Only a fraction of the plastic disposed of in western countries and shipped to Asia could be recycled, the rest wound up in rivers and in the ocean. This was not the reason that Asia stopped receiving the plastic waste, however, the reason they stopped all or most of the shipments was the water pollution created by cleaning the trash that was already supposed to be clean.”

          Funny thing, this was true for years but it never stopped China etc. from accepting plastic. Plastic in the ocean was moaned at for years but only blamed on China for a few months before they quit taking our refuse. Certain kinds of economic consequences are highly predictable as when you pay the Calabrian Mafia to dispose of nuclear waste: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxic_waste_dumping_by_the_'Ndrangheta

          Or when you outlaw alcohol or opiates. Or when you flood underdeveloped countries with cheap grain (and put the local farmers and merchants out of business). Or any time you put the state in control of the production of goods and services.

          And of course it has been the environmentalists who created all these environmental disasters, by campaigning against incineration, nuclear energy, logging, grazing, and so on. Don’t go giving them or China any more credit than they deserve. –AGF

  36. I was interested to read that at least in a few locations containers that aren’t cleaned out end up in the landfill. In Arizona we’re told not to bother rinsing out containers, because that doesn’t matter, so I stopped rinsing things before I tossed them in the bin. I wonder if my stuff ends up being recycled or landfilled.

    • Dave,
      It was almost certainly landfilled. Very little glass and plastic is actually recycled, as you can see in figure 1. 8% or less.

  37. The issue with traditional waste to energy (incineration) is economic. When the big WtE build-out happened in the ’80s thru the early ’90s, the plants couldn’t compete with landfills via tip fees. Landfills were too cheap. States did two things to compensate:

    1. Give WtE operators a special rate for electricity produced by the plant. Typically around $0.12 per kWh (big $$ back in the late ’80s for wholesale power).
    2. Implement ‘flow control’ that forced waste haulers to use the WtE plant, restricting them from moving waste out of state.

    With energy deregulation, the special rate per kWh is gone. Covanta (the largest operator of WtE plants) gets about $0.026 per kWh. Flow control was ruled unconstitutional decades back. WtE plants are dependent on high tipping rates. In the NYC metro area, the rates can go over $100 per ton. Where the rates were under $40, companies like Covanta have closed plants.

    The ‘Holy Grail’ for waste is gasification, as once you make high quality syngas you can then make a wide variety of products. Example: You make methanol from syngas. Methanol is a primary feedstock to make plastics. So plastics made from this methanol would 100% ‘recycled’ and about 65% ‘bio’ (about 2/3rds of the municipal waste stream is items like paper, food waste, yard waste, etc.).

    Gasification attempts though has been failure after failure. So there is great hesitance to invest in the technology. To the best of my knowledge, there are two companies that went back the drawing board and have developed working pilot plants. Disclosure: I am with a group that is trying to build a plant based on one of the company’s tech.

    I

  38. I have to admit that I DO take the time, and use the water to wash the trash that goes into my recycling container. I just like the idea of keeping garbage as clean as I can. There’s something fulfilling about being this tidy. Raw food refuse goes into the compost heap. Stained stuff beyond saving goes into the trash. I’ve actually used some of my own recycled garbage for garden walls, containers, even dog toys. And, hey, why buy food storage containers, when recycled ones work great.

    Whether it is working economically or not on a mass scale is not so much an immediate concern to me — I still do it, because it keeps things neater, better organized, less smelly, and more usable for a longer time.

    If I were homeless, I think I could figure out how to build a fairly comfortable tiny house out of what most people throw away.

  39. I never rinse recycle stuff. The clean water is far more valuable than any difference rinsing could make to the value of the thing recycled.

  40. We would have to move to refilling bottles. Go to store with your clean bottles and refill them with milk, water, beer etc.

  41. Andy, how wide was the 1/2 mile trawl through the ocean gyre? I am curious to see the amount of plastic per square mile.

    • From the Connolly, et. Al. Article cited in the post.

      perhaps up to a few hundred tiny fragments per square mile.

      See their pdf for more details.

  42. the original definitive treatment “Recycling is Garbage”:

    https://web.williams.edu/HistSci/curriculum/101/garbage.html?fbclid=IwAR2-_zq_VpFwuG51GpN8GPvyAloRo0C6tPTQtfn9BzkGQ0Ok-lWYoMuhYs0

    and the follow up 20 years later that says essentially the same thing. “The Reign of Recylcing”:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/opinion/sunday/the-reign-of-recycling.html

    The lesson here is that landfilling is just fine. We’ve got plenty of space. I’m not necessarily opposed to useful incineration technologies although I imagine there is a bit of a tradeoff in potentially mobil and soluble cosntituents of the ash. But there simply isn’t a problem with landfilling, especially when you look at the life cycle and opportunity costs of recycling.

  43. Can anyone explain why it matters if there are traces of food in glass. They crush it up and melt it in a kiln where any contaminates will burn off.

  44. My local recycler insists that any plastic bottle or milk container WITH the lid on will be rejected. When crushed, the lid can potentially become a dangerous projectile. Furthermore, the lid is non-recyclable.

  45. If female greenies want to do something personal to reduce plastic pollution, they should switch from pantyhose to stockings, a pair of which weighs 60% less. Over their lifetimes, over a hundred pounds of waste could be avoided.

  46. Politicians control garbage because they are legalized mobsters. I’ll be damned before l do their job for them after they forced me to pay up and give up control! A sturdy lamppost would solve this “problem”.

  47. Is Coca Cola eco friendly?

    Imagehttps://www.bbc.com › news

    Davos 2020: People still want plastic bottles, says Coca-Cola – BBC News

    coca cola plastic bottle recycling from http://www.bbc.com
    21 Jan 2020

    · Coca-Cola will not ditch single-use plastic bottles because consumers still want them, the firm’s head of sustainability has told the BBC. Customers like them because they reseal and are lightweight, said Bea Perez. The firm, which is one of the biggest producers of plastic waste …

    Imagehttps://www.coca-colacompany.com › …

    Sustainable Packaging | The Coca-Cola Company
    Bottles made from 100% recycled plastic, fully recyclable materials, plant-based materials and hybrid innovations are now available.

    https://www.google.com/search?client=ms-android-huawei&sxsrf=ALeKk03XJreJJ_gAFIlz92k7DCuyiwbFXQ:1583140871775&q=coca+cola+plastic+bottle+recycling&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiDkqqqu_vnAhXwxcQBHUsDA9UQ1QIwE3oECAsQBg&biw=360&bih=574

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    The usual fallacy: don’t ASK those eco-friends before a camera what they WANT – watch them what they DO !

    “Davos 2020: People still want plastic bottles, says Coca-Cola – BBC News”

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