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moleculo

The Global Recycling Crisis

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So my local waste management stopped taking recyclables - plastic and paper, specifically (not sure about aluminum).  I was curious why, and it turns out that China has stopped taking most recyclables, as they have been doing for the past 20+ years.  A new-found environmentalism, I guess, and badly needed.

Here is a set of articles on the subject from FT.com.  I'm very interested in this as a guy who has made a career out of designing plastic goods. 

Per my experience, recyclability is not much of a concern when products are designed.  There is no incentive to manufacturers.  I guess there is some good will if you can do it, but probably not enough to justify cost adders.  I wish that weren't the case, but it's so.  

Recycling is expensive to do it right.  From the sounds of it, the China guys were doing it cheaply.  Vietnam/Thailand will be following suit.  I'm not sure how it will work moving forward - will there be a viable market for US recyclers, especially for e-waste?  It seems to be me that this isn't a problem a free market can solve.

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It's a huge issue, I wish I had an idea about what can be done as it represents a major threat to the global ecosystem. Right now we just make every effort to reduce our personal consumption.

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16 minutes ago, Chaka said:

It's a huge issue, I wish I had an idea about what can be done as it represents a major threat to the global ecosystem. Right now we just make every effort to reduce our personal consumption.

Single use tax?

I can buy 24 bottles of poland spring 3.99. Tax it like tobacco to where that same 24 pack costs me $16.99 

Plastic straws? 100ct is 10 bucks

Solo cups? 250ct $29.99

?

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10 minutes ago, comfortably numb said:

Single use tax?

I can buy 24 bottles of poland spring 3.99. Tax it like tobacco to where that same 24 pack costs me $16.99 

Plastic straws? 100ct is 10 bucks

Solo cups? 250ct $29.99

?

Good ideas but do we have the political will to make this happen?

I doubt it.

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11 minutes ago, Chaka said:

Good ideas but do we have the political will to make this happen?

I doubt it.

That seems tough but the environmental impact of certain single use products are not reflected in the price. Classic tradegy of the commons situation.  

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52 minutes ago, Chaka said:

 Right now we just make every effort to reduce our personal consumption.

How about population control...not sure why this is never mentioned as a solution.  

Population growth is the real issue, reducing consumption is a short sighted stop gap.

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25 minutes ago, TripItUp said:

How about population control...not sure why this is never mentioned as a solution.  

Population growth is the real issue, reducing consumption is a short sighted stop gap.

No need. Plenty of space for everyone. I'm currently pricing out my time share on mars.

Maybe another thread but how do we go about population control?

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24 minutes ago, TripItUp said:

How about population control...not sure why this is never mentioned as a solution.  

Population growth is the real issue, reducing consumption is a short sighted stop gap.

I imagine the controversial part is deciding which population gets controlled. 

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Just now, comfortably numb said:

No need. Plenty of space for everyone. I'm currently pricing out my time share on mars.

Maybe another thread but how do we go about population control?

Stop incenting people to have children with tax cuts...make people actually pay for their children instead of having taxpayers do it.

For starters.

 

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1 minute ago, huthut said:

I imagine the controversial part is deciding which population gets controlled. 

Get rid of the Catholic Church 

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34 minutes ago, Redwes25 said:

That seems tough but the environmental impact of certain single use products are not reflected in the price. Classic tradegy of the commons situation.  

I'm a hypocrite and not a good recycler or buying eco friendly items....but these single use bottles suck. My wife bought paper straws. Great. Every room i walk into has 4 tiny 8oz plastic bottles half full.

People like me who are too lazy to actually do something would notice if the price for some of these items quadrupled. 

 

Government subsidies for companies recycling plastic? Forget the corn farmers and pay people to recycle stuff?

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1 minute ago, TripItUp said:

Stop incenting people to have children with tax cuts...make people actually pay for their children instead of having taxpayers do it.

For starters.

 

There is a reason most rich people have less kids than most poor people.

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Just now, Leroy Hoard said:

There is a reason most rich people have less kids than most poor people.

exactly.

 

Not only are the morons having more children, they are diluting the gene pool.  

 

Lots of problems get solved when the morons stop reproducing.

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6 minutes ago, TripItUp said:

Stop incenting people to have children with tax cuts...make people actually pay for their children instead of having taxpayers do it.

For starters.

 

That's a good one but the US is a blip in terms of population but it would be a start for the us

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1 hour ago, comfortably numb said:

I'm a hypocrite and not a good recycler or buying eco friendly items....but these single use bottles suck. My wife bought paper straws. Great. Every room i walk into has 4 tiny 8oz plastic bottles half full.

People like me who are too lazy to actually do something would notice if the price for some of these items quadrupled. 

 

Government subsidies for companies recycling plastic? Forget the corn farmers and pay people to recycle stuff?

This is where I'm at right now.  Still, I'd love to see plastic usage reduced or better incentives to design in recyclability from the start.  Food packaging (including water bottles) is a good example - instead of plastic bottles, could we use glass or aluminum and go with the $0.05 deposit route, like we do with beer bottles?   What about something completely different + cardboard boxes (similar to juice boxes)?

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My family recycles everything we can. Our recycle roll-away is full every week, while our garbage roll-away is practically empty--maybe two bags. 

Some suggestions:

Eliminate junk mail including political mailings 

Provide people with reusable grocery bags with this paid for by taxes on single use items--plastic grocery bags are one of the biggest problems out there and should be eliminated. 

Offer incentives for people to recycle: my old trash company used to have a great program where they would come weigh our can as they dumped it each week and then based on the weight, we got points, which could be exchanged for gift cards to Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. They got lazy and started giving everyone the same points each month, which resulted in the rewards drying up. They then raised their prices and we left for another company. This program is the type of thing that would encourage recycling. 

 

 

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2 hours ago, TripItUp said:

How about population control...not sure why this is never mentioned as a solution.  

Population growth is the real issue, reducing consumption is a short sighted stop gap.

For some reason that I can't quite put my finger on it doesn't feel like, as a country, we are moving in a population control direction.

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My town moved away from our normal recycling process for the same reason and it is freaking everyone out...such lazy POSs who are like "I'm just gonna throw it all in the trash then"

As someone who does packaging design, I really hope this pushes us and the manufacturers to start focusing more on sustainable packaging and less of it. We need to move away from plastics, polly bags and other products that don't naturally break down, and move back to cardboards and other paper-based packaging. Retailers need to stop giving shelf space to toys and other products that are 80% disposable packaging, just so the toy 'looks good' on the shelf. Granted, this is my industry and pays the bills, but there is a lot of room for creativity in working with unique material choices. 

but the consumers need to be on board too....if it doesn't sell because it 'looks odd' then thats a major falure. 

On the flip side, IDK why no one is looking to create recycling plants here. Everyone wants to talk about jobs and green initiatives yet we are selling our garage overseas?? I'm not going to pretend I know enough about recycling economy, but F it, lets start processing it here and make the world buy from us??? 

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I think one key is to regulate materials, but I don't know how to enforce that in this country.  A model I'd look at is RoHS.  I don't know the entirety of RoHS, but the part of it I've been involved with is the elimination of lead (specifically solder) in electric components.  Lead free solder is more expensive and harder to work with so there has been resistance from the production side.  The benefit is obvious - lead is toxic.

RoHS was implemented  a decade or more ago.  I don't know who regulates it, who enforces it, etc.  I think it comes from the EU, which seems better able to implement environmental regulations.

I'd like to expand on that concept to include chlorine, BPA, etc, in all materials - plastics, metals, coatings, etc.  Doing so would make recycling less of a messy process.

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20 hours ago, comfortably numb said:

Single use tax?

I can buy 24 bottles of poland spring 3.99. Tax it like tobacco to where that same 24 pack costs me $16.99 

Plastic straws? 100ct is 10 bucks

Solo cups? 250ct $29.99

?

Exactly, we need to get away from the single use model. Why does someone need a new container every 10 days when they get milk? We had it right before, just get a glass container and refill it. There are a lot of products that don't need individual packaging but instead could be refilled at the grocery store: oil, eggs, milk, juice, cereal, pasta, rice, coffee, etc. 

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4 minutes ago, Ilov80s said:

Exactly, we need to get away from the single use model. Why does someone need a new container every 10 days when they get milk? We had it right before, just get a glass container and refill it. There are a lot of products that don't need individual packaging but instead could be refilled at the grocery store: oil, eggs, milk, juice, cereal, pasta, rice, coffee, etc. 

There are people thinking about returning to the old milk model - https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.curbed.com/platform/amp/2019/1/30/18201277/loop-zero-waste-platform-recycling

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3 minutes ago, Redwes25 said:

It makes sense. In some ways it is happening with craft beer and growlers. In Italy lots of the place do wine refilles out of the barrel. Now that is for table wine and it's not corked like something one would cellar but for things being used regularly, there is no reason for all the wasted packaging we use. The drive behind it is likely companies knowing they can sell more (and things we don't need) with flashy packaging. 

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I’ve thought about this for 30 seconds, so question for the population control guys.  What do you do about economic growth?   If we slow population growth, long-term economic growth declines since labor force growth + productivity growth ~ long-term economic growth rate. 

Productivity growth has been crappy for a decade-plus.  I’m not sure there’s a silver bullet there.  The US’s estimated growth rate is around 1.5%-1.75% now, meaningfully lower than it was pre-GFC.

I’ll hang up and listen. 

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The LA Times just ran a series on this, I think I posted it in another thread. Those blue bins we use are a charade, everything ends up going to the dump because 1) China stopped taking it, and 2) Not everything we think is recyclable actually is. Unless you're peeling labels off of your soup cans, removing the tape and labels from your Amazon boxes, or thoroughly rinsing every bottle, it's unusable for recycling. And no, they can't do it at the plant because paying someone $15/hr to peel tape from cardboard boxes that are worth a penny each means he'd have to do 25 boxes per minute to just break even, let alone what they'd have to do to actually make a profit. There's just not enough in it. 

We should probably just be launching stuff into the sun or something.

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1 hour ago, Andrew74 said:

I’ve thought about this for 30 seconds, so question for the population control guys.  What do you do about economic growth?   If we slow population growth, long-term economic growth declines since labor force growth + productivity growth ~ long-term economic growth rate. 

Productivity growth has been crappy for a decade-plus.  I’m not sure there’s a silver bullet there.  The US’s estimated growth rate is around 1.5%-1.75% now, meaningfully lower than it was pre-GFC.

I’ll hang up and listen. 

Couldn't automation fill the declining labor force gap? 

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On 2/24/2019 at 5:50 PM, TripItUp said:

Stop incenting people to have children with tax cuts...make people actually pay for their children instead of having taxpayers do it.

I actually think this is a pretty good idea. Which means it probably isn't. But still...

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REDUCE, Reuse, recycle.

Recycling is the 3rd leg of "consumerist" environmentalism.  And, I might add, the least import, but the one that has been most focused/adopted on because it is the easiest.

The fact of the matter is that we consume WAY too much stuff.  Sure consuming stuff is the foundation of our economy, but there are consequences to that.  Recycling has made it easy for us to go out and buy more and more #### and still feel like good global citizens and champions of the environment because we "recycle" some of that ####.  No tough decisions required.  No sacrifice.  Have your cake.  Eat it too.  Just as long as you recycle the paper box it comes in right?

The answer?  Is going to actually require sacrifice.  Probably like a lot of the problems we face as global citizens is going to require re-thinking how to move the global economy forward with less.  Or products that have multiple uses.  Or Products who have a much longer life span.  And with those - products made much closer to home.  The issue isn't how to re-design products for recyclability , but rather how to re-design the global economy so it moves forward with LESS.  And like our national debt - no one has a clue nor the courage to actually move towards a true solution.

If you want to talk about overpopulation.  Sure.  There isn't a major problem in the world that isn't immediately solved by reducing the global population from our current 7.7 Billion down to 2 Billion.  But that kind of population reduction doesn't come from tax incentives.  When nature is out of balance, Nature tends to find a way to get back into balance, but it's usually not measured and gradual - rather it's violent and sudden.

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Yeah, it's easy to get smug and feel like "I'm doing my part, everyone else sucks!" when you chuck a beer bottle in the blue bin and figure that's all you needed to do to save the world.

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22 hours ago, urbanhack said:

Start making everything from Hemp!!!

agreed.

also ...

This New Consumer-Goods System Could Solve Recycling’s Failures

Quote

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, the pioneering recycling company TerraCyleannounced the launch of Loop, a new system of product packaging and delivery that focuses on reuse instead of recycling. Global brands partnering on the program include Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Mondelēz, Danone, and several smaller brands. A pilot program will launch this spring in the Paris and New York metropolitan regions (including parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey), then roll out to several others toward the end of the year.

 

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2 hours ago, siffoin said:

There isn't a major problem in the world that isn't immediately solved by reducing the global population from our current 7.7 Billion down to 2 Billion.

Population control doesn't have to be reducing. We just need to stop growing. We are already seeing effects from too much growth in certain areas. People want to blame global warming exclusively for "100 year floods every 3 years," but the way cities and towns expand have caused plenty of these issues. 

Ellicott city is a perfect example. They knew for years it could be a problem because water channels had been built over and blocked. Water isnt the easiest thing to calculate exactly what will happen when you are trying to make it go somewhere and ooops, retention pond didn't work like we thought it would.  

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5 hours ago, siffoin said:

There isn't a major problem in the world that isn't immediately solved by reducing the global population from our current 7.7 Billion down to 2 Billion.

 

I just said in another thread last week that there's no problem on Earth that couldn't be solved if we just made it legal to eat the poor.

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11 hours ago, grateful zed said:

thanks for that...good article. This is kind of what I was talking about above with manufacturers and designers needing to create more sustainable packaging, but in the end still needs solid consumer buy in. 

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https://signaturewaste.com/

My trash companies website, pretty straight forward. We still have recycle dumpsters at the local drop off points around town that people can take their recycling to but that involves a determined effort form people and just won't happen.

On 2/24/2019 at 8:56 PM, glvsav37 said:

On the flip side, IDK why no one is looking to create recycling plants here. Everyone wants to talk about jobs and green initiatives yet we are selling our garage overseas?? I'm not going to pretend I know enough about recycling economy, but F it, lets start processing it here and make the world buy from us??? 

Because it's expensive, it's messy, it stinks and no one wants it in their backyard. I used to work in the environmental clean up field and one of the things we did was set up mobile incinerator projects for the really contaminated areas around the country. Similar to getting approval for a nuclear plant, the permitting process takes years and invariably the locals fight it tooth & nail because no one wants it in their neighborhood. I get it and would probably be right there fighting it as well but at some point we, as a country, need to address this in-house. There are plenty of ways to mitigate the emissions but there has to be some give & take between the environmentalists & reality. The cost for one of these systems shouldn't be 100's of millions or even a billion dollars and take 10+ years to get approved. Sorry, sore spot for me.

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We have a giant nuclear reactor at the center of the solar system that will incinerate ANYTHING.....

shooting garbage into the sun down?

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Should use high heat and pressure to compact it into bricks for building The Wall

Or just toss the bricks into the ocean

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48 minutes ago, Thunderlips said:

We have a giant nuclear reactor at the center of the solar system that will incinerate ANYTHING.....

shooting garbage into the sun down?

Would it also involve having someone be eaten by bees?  Think that proposal has been floating around here for awhile.  

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38 minutes ago, Dan Lambskin said:

Should use high heat and pressure to compact it into bricks for building The Wall

Or just toss the bricks into the ocean

We do that now...just minus the high heat & compression part.

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2 hours ago, Buddy Ball 2K3 said:

Yeah we need a much more systematic change to how we produce and use things. Recycling would work great if we used in conjunction with a reduction in waste. Instead I feel like we've used it as a reason we can create more waste. 

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Somewhat related, Waste Land is an incredible documentary about the pickers at the world's largest landfill outside of Rio. They pick through the trash to find recylable items to sell. They work and live amongst the trash. It's about trash, art, human spirit and hope. 

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I am not sure who the "we" is when folks say "we" need to stop incentivizing folks to have kids. In western cultures we've been below replacement rate for awhile

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/17/611898421/u-s-births-falls-to-30-year-low-sending-fertility-rate-to-a-record-low

 

The triangle is upside down. And this is a problem. Japan seems to be leading the way here. 

 

This seems like an odd windmill to be tilting at.

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2 hours ago, IrishTwinkie said:

I am not sure who the "we" is when folks say "we" need to stop incentivizing folks to have kids. In western cultures we've been below replacement rate for awhile

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/05/17/611898421/u-s-births-falls-to-30-year-low-sending-fertility-rate-to-a-record-low

 

The triangle is upside down. And this is a problem. Japan seems to be leading the way here. 

 

This seems like an odd windmill to be tilting at.

You do realize there's a whole lot more to the world than the US right?

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8 hours ago, Ilov80s said:

Yeah we need a much more systematic change to how we produce and use things. Recycling would work great if we used in conjunction with a reduction in waste. Instead I feel like we've used it as a reason we can create more waste. 

Agreed.

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2 hours ago, DallasDMac said:

You do realize there's a whole lot more to the world than the US right?

So somehow the US is using tax breaks to incentivize people from other countries to have kids? 

 

Actually, forget it. I am not going to attempt to whittle this idea that we need to reduce the birth rate locally or globally to increase recycyling to some coherent point. Too large of a non sequitur for me. 

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15 hours ago, DallasDMac said:

You do realize there's a whole lot more to the world than the US right?

Wait, what now?

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