You aren't going to like this. You are going to yell at me. You are going to ask what is my solution (which I actually present in an embryonic form later).
Recycling...ah, it sounds so nice. Something we can all do to help the environment...all meaning each of us as individuals and right up the line to various manufacturing industries, corporations, and tech firms. Let's all recycle. It's so nice.
Well...hmm...ask those who live around the Canada Docks area in Liverpool and they might quarrel with you a wee bit. Their sick of living in the sickening environment caused by this nod to the environment. You can read about all that in the post below my sweet introduction.
Now, I am not going to come out against recycling. That would be ridiculous, but I am going to present you with a piece that shows you up close and personal that the recycling industry is just one more dirty, filthy, capitalist enterprise...and maybe you shouldn't feel so all self righteous everytime you dump something in your little bin or drop it off at some local center.
Capitalism, always a clever beast, has found a way to make the recycling of market overconsumption into environmentalism. Capitalism has found a way to make consumers feel good about their consumption of masses of unnecessary goods by allowing them to put them out in their curbside bins every week to be carried off...somewhere, where something is done with it, but what?
If you understand the nature of Capital, you realize an industry desire must exist for the recyclable material to be recycled by the recycling-industrial complex. Furthermore, if there are not enough of the same items to recycle, or a local recycling facility does not have the capability to reprocess the material, then the item is disposed of in landfills.
Even the capitalists are aware of the problem of their own making as their journal Forbes exemplifies:
Trade groups representing various packaging interests–plastic, paper, glass–have become the largest proponents and financial sponsors of recycling.
The plastics industry’s interest in recycling is two-fold of course–on the one hand, by supporting recycling and helping to establish infrastructure for plastic recycling, the industry ensures a steady supply of new materials. On the other, it helps consumer to justify the consumption of more disposable plastic goods and packaged items if they can comfort themselves with the idea that whatever they toss in the bin will be recycled.
The thing is, recycling isn’t the small operation it once was, it’s a commodity business that fluctuates with supply and demand. It’s also a global market, with recyclables collected in the United States being shipped to wherever demand is highest (often China). A few years ago, when demand for recycled paper products dropped, recyclers all over the country where warehousing stacks of cardboard, waiting for the prices to turn around. “The hope is that eventually the markets turn around and that the material is sold, but I have heard of instances where it gets landfilled, because a community doesn’t have the demand or the space or the company to deal with it,” says Gene Jones, executive director of Southern Waste Information Exchange—a nonprofit center for information about recycling waste. There’s a difference between things being recyclable and actually being recycled,” says Gerry Fishbeck, vice president of UNited Resource Recovery Corporation (URRC), one of the largest recyclers in the country. ”It’s centered around critical mass – is there enough of the material out there? And even if there is, is it worth it for recyclers to create a whole separate stream?”
Fishbeck cites PVC as a perfect example: Technically it’s recyclable, but most recyclers don’t handle the stuff. It can mimic PET and thus easily get into a PET recycling stream, but when it’s melted down it will create brown particles in the resin, creating color problems with the resulting material. “So even though it’s recyclable, that material will get separated out and disposed of as waste at the recycling facility,” Fishbeck explains.
Bioplastics are another example. With the exception of bio-based PET and HDPE, bioplastics fall into the recyclable but not recycled category. They are treated as contaminants of the recycling stream by most recyclers and separated out as waste. “If PLA (polylactic acid, the most common bioplastic today) gets into the recycling stream, it will cause contamination, it will be a defect, and that means we’ll do everything we can to keep it out of the stream and it will become waste,” Fishbeck says. “There’s just not enough of it around to have the critical mass to justify getting it separated and recycled. It can be done, but it isn’t.”
Emissions are another sticky subject for recycling. In the case of some materials–aluminum corrugated cardboard, newspaper, dimensional lumber, and medium-density fiberboard–the net greenhouse gas emissions reductions enabled by recycling are actually greater than they would be if the waste source was simply reduced, according to the EPA. For others–glass, plastic–while in some cases the energy required to recycle versus making virgin material is lower, there are concerns about the particulates emitted by recycling factories. In recent studies of air quality in Oakland, recycling centers were, perhaps surprisingly, included amongst the city’s polluters.
You probably didn't know that studies indicate, for example, only 6.8% of all plastics are actually recycled, when 77% of Americans are thought to recycle. Something is amiss.
PolicyMic points out, shockingly:
... recycling is considered a proactive measure to help secure the welfare of the environment. Overwhelming quantities of facts and figures, however, dispute this assumption. It is theorized that recycling actually causes more carbon emissions than it actually saves. For just one example, curbside recycling requires more trucks for collecting the same amount of waste. In most communities, this requires, on average, twice the amount of waste disposal vehicles. Therefore, recycling requires more iron ore and coal mining, steel and rubber manufacturing, and petroleum extractions for refined fuel. Ultimately, the consequence is more air pollution.
As Fresh writes:
The key problem with recycling is that it is actually downcycling: the materials go down in quality over time. In the landmark treatise on green product design Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart wrote:
“When plastics other than those found in soda and water bottles are recycled, they are mixed with different plastics to produce a hybrid of lower quality, which is then molded into something amorphous and cheap, such as a park bench or a speed bump… Aluminum is another valuable but constantly downcycled material. The typical soda can consists of two kinds of aluminum: the walls are composed of aluminum, manganese alloy with some magnesium, plus coatings and paint, while the harder top is aluminum magnesium alloy. In conventional recycling these materials are melted together, resulting in a weaker—and less useful—product.” (Cradle to Cradle, 56-57)
In other words, with most recyclables, you can’t just keep reusing the same materials over and over again. Eventually, they are downcycled to a point where it is no longer economically or chemically feasible to transform them, and they are thrown out into the landfill that you were trying to avoid. So much for closed-loop materials usage.
Even worse, products made from recycled materials can have harmful additives and toxins. When plastics are melted together, chemical or mineral additives may be used to recoup the clarity and strength of the original plastic. Downcycled paper requires bleaching to make it blank again, and the result is an amalgamation of chemicals, pulp and toxic inks. Wearing clothing made with fibers from recycled plastics means your fleece sweater likely contains catalytic residues, ultraviolet stabilizers, plasticizers and other additives, which were never designed to be in extended contact with human skin. If a product was not designed from the start to be recycled, continued use past its intended lifetime can have unintended consequences.
However, we should also remember that it is scientifically proven that recycling improves self-esteem. And really, isn't that what all this about...giving us all the chance to damage each other and the environment, but feel pretty darn good about it.
The truth is in many ways, recycling is not a sustainable solution, and distracts from how to resolve our growing waste problem.
What if instead of all this nonsense we just got rid of Capital itself, designed products that could be tossed onto the ground, decompose naturally, return themselves and their nutrients to the soil, to nature...or even where that is not feasible, made them so they could be returned to the industrial system to cycle forever as high-quality materials. We do have that technology.
There's a thought.
And now, from Mute:
LIVERPOOL'S DOCKS, DUST AND DIRT
- Sustainable use of natural resources, by saving, reducing, re-using and recycling
- Compliance with legislative requirements relating to all environmental issues
- Improvement in safety, hygiene and health in the workplace
- Minimisation of the impact of its industrial facilities on their locations and on the environment