Tag Archive for recycle

Selling Bottled Water that’s Better for the Planet

To me, the title is a contradiction in terms. By its very nature, bottled water consumes more resources to produce, requires a large carbon footprint and in the end, not matter how the container is designed, creates a waste stream.

I give the owner credit for attempting to make a container that has a smaller environmental impact than some containers, and for making a container that is made from largely renewable resources…but this is just one more unnecessary product being placed in the general market.

I am also not convinced that the container is as recyclable as advertised…not every community can recycle aseptic style packaging so to say that it is recyclable is a bit of a reach.

recycle bottled water

Essentially, notwithstanding their good marketing, the company is making a container (they don’t make the product) that is just a little less bad for the planet, not better for it.

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Selling Bottled Water That’s Better for the Planet
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San Francisco Recycling works…but we still get the words wrong.

First, let me say that San Francisco is a model of recycling that shows what people can do when they work together. It also shows that properly separated recyclables can be moved to market and that the entire process can be done cost effectively.

San Francisco requires residents to sort recyclables, compostables and garbage….three sorts in three cans. This type of sorting can and does work.

recyclablesOn these points the Times article gets it right. HOWEVER, I am still dismayed at the incorrect use of language, especially in the Science Times, when it comes to recycling. Words like Garbage Trucks, “recyclable garbage” and debris permeate the article. UGH….

Recyclable materials are NOT GARBAGE or DEBRIS….they are commodities. Until we get the language correct, we will not succeed in educating anyone about how to handle these materials.

Come on New York Times, you should know better.

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San Francisco, ‘the Silicon Valley of Recycling’
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Recycling Plastics and Glass

The concept of creating a low interest loan bank of investments for the hard to recycle plastics and glass is certainly an interesting concept. Kudos to Mr. Gonan and company for proposing and getting funding for the idea.

Of course, the article does leave a bit out of the equation. It states that there is a high demand for the material from certain corporations. That may be true, but the real issue is can all of this be done at a price point that is sustainable. Therein lies the problem.

As oil continues to decrease in price, so does the value of the very materials that the fund is trying to create a processing outlet for. Thus, the issue is; we can sort it, but can we sell it…and yes the article does mention this…but it is a really big question.

The other issue is one of transportation and value…

recycling-plastics-and-glassGlass has limited uses in the making of new bottles (people still think that this is the only thing that happens to glass for the most part…and groups like the Container Recycling Institute think that deposit laws somehow help recycling…they don’t). It is also expensive to transport. Thus, if there are no glass mills close by, there is no market for glass cullet as glass cullet….

The idea that glass has other post consumer uses is a good one and one that must take geography and political resistance into account.

So, this is a great start…and I hope that the fund will also look at supporting technology that finds new and value enhanced uses for these materials. That is, real up – cycling, not feel good up – cycling.

Of course, there is a simpler and less costly solution…avoid the manufacture of the hard to recycle plastics in the first place….or better yet, make it a policy that real extended producer responsibility be put in place.

Read the full article:
Big Companies Put Their Money Where the Trash Is
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The Green Curtain Closes; Part II

As you may recall in my recent blog post, I noted that one of the problems with recycling today is the fact that we have become less responsible for the materials that we sort for recycling pick up. This observation was strongly supported in a recent article on the Green Curtain issue that was published in The Christian Science Monitor on June 19*.

As noted in the article, the Chinese Government has made it clear that they will no longer allow “foreign rubbish” into their country. Since the Green Curtain program has begun, more than 800,000 tons of illegal waste has been stopped by Chinese inspections.

This should bother us on several levels. The first is simply a human level. What gives us the right to send our garbage to another country where in many cases you have women making $15 per day using a box cutter to remove labels from soda bottles? If this were happening to women in this country, there would be a revolution.

The second level is deeper and relates to people’s behavior when it comes to handling their own generation of recycling and solid waste. Essentially, after all of these years of education on how to separate recycling from garbage, we still manage to contaminate the recycling component by more than 20% on average.

RecyclingWhy? In part it is because we have made it “easier” to recycle by allowing more and more commingling of materials. Thus, taking away generator responsibility for the materials that they generate while not teaching the generator how to keep garbage out of the recycling stream.

That system, commingling of recycling with different recycling can work, but only if there is a sound and consistent education program in place. Indeed, in the best programs, total contamination is less than 2% and that is captured before the material is shipped overseas.

But commingling is only a part of the issue, and as it is the norm today, we should focus on education as a solution to possible contamination of recyclables in that system.

The bigger problem as noted in the article relates to sheer volume. 75% of our Aluminum scrap. 60% of our paper and 50% of our plastic are shipped to China. This begs the question…why?

The answer is painfully clear; “Shipping companies, seeking to cut their losses, offer bargain rates on their westbound freighters: It is cheaper to ship a 40 foot container full of iron scrap from Los Angeles to a Chinese Port than it is to send it by train to a foundry in Chicago…”

If you were a dealer in these commodities, what would you do?

Compounding this problem, Robin Wiener, president of ISRI stated correctly that “If the U.S. border were closed, most of the scrap that is exported today would go to landfill…We don’t have the capacity to absorb it all.”

That’s right, the U.S. does not have enough recycling or manufacturing demand for all of the recyclable materials that we collect.

When the cost of transportation, and the lack of domestic manufacturing are taken into account, it is no wonder that we have become “over-dependent on China.” This of course means that if the Chinese markets drop, all recycling markets drop.

Where does this leave us? That is a big question.

Many of the big sorting companies are realizing that they need to put better sorting systems into place. These cost large amounts of money and notwithstanding their efforts, really cannot replace a good and consistent education program.

Here is a crazy notion. Support U.S. made products that are manufactured out of recycled materials. Yes, an idea as old as the recycling programs in the U.S. still seems to hold. It isn’t recycling until it is made into something new.

One thing is certain. If we in the U.S. do not change our pattern of recycling, the entire system is in jeopardy of economic collapse due to the contamination of the recycling stream.

*The article was found during my review of Enviropolitics. This publication, prepared by my friend and colleague Frank Brill, is an excellent source of information. It is a summary of major articles on environmental issues from publications throughout the U.S. If you are interested in this publication, you can get a 30 – day no obligation free trial by going to the link:

Click here for more information regarding Enviropolitics.

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