The Effectiveness of Recycling

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Qwerty 42
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The Effectiveness of Recycling

Post by Qwerty 42 » 2010-09-30 11:02pm

First, I apologize if this is posted elsewhere. I gave a cursory search and didn't find anything.

My friend and I had a relatively informal discussion about the effectiveness of recycling, or, to wit, whether or not it "works." His position was that the resources needed to collect recyclable materials, as well as environmental impact of recycling processes and the construction of recycling facilities was a net negative on the environment relative to acquiring "virgin" resources.

My position was counter to his, and essentially amounted to the idea that recycling dramatically increased the functional lifecycle of non-renewable sources such as plastic and partially mitigated the need for vastly destructive mining processes for metals.

We've essentially reached the point in the argument where neither or us will get any further without actually finding hard evidence. I did a Google Scholar search, but came up relatively empty on either position. If you esteemed denizens would know of a direction in which to point me, I would be most grateful. That applies to either the for or against position, naturally.

And for the purposes of our discussion, recycling refers to consumer "throw a coke can in a bin and it gets turned into something else" type of recycling.

Thanks in advance :)
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Re: The Effectiveness of Recycling

Post by Broomstick » 2010-10-01 10:41am

It depends on what you're recycling.

I make recycling choices in my own life based a great deal on something called "money" or "profit". Some "waste" is actually valuable enough that people will pay you to bring it to them.

As an example: I can turn in aluminum cans to a recycler for $0.45 a pound. All I do is toss aluminum cans into a bin, just like I would if I was throwing them out, and once a month I turn them in. As long as I receive more money from turning them in than I spend in gas and time to take them to the facility I come out ahead. Certainly, then, on a personal level recycling aluminum cans is effective.

The fact that it takes FAR less energy to recycle aluminum than to refine aluminum ore has made aluminum one of the most recycled materials on earth. It is cost effective for aluminum producers to refine aluminum trash over refining raw ore. Recycling aluminum is VERY effective.

Now, take another item: iron/steel. I get much less a pound for scrap iron/steel (although, of course, iron is pretty heavy by volume). The margin for recycling scrap iron is more narrow, requires sufficient mass to make that worth while, and a vehicle able to haul it. Again, I have that, and since I take the iron/steel to the same facility in the same pickup it, too, is cost-effective for me. And for other people, some of whom scavenge other peoples' trash for the stuff.

Now, how about another item: paper. The recycler near me will take paper, but won't pay me for it. It gets recycled, which is a good thing in that you don't have to cut down trees for it and it's not going into landfills, but it's much less cost effective. If you're evaluating efficiency based purely on money then recycling paper may not be cost effective or efficient. However, some people do place considerable value on NOT cutting down trees and/or reducing what goes into landfills.

Finally, kitchen waste: I compost this. Is that effective? I'm not sure munipal composting is really effective, but household level might be. If you have a use for the compost. As it happens, I garden. Composting takes trash I would otherwise throw out (and which would wind up in a landfill) and converts it to fertilizer, which I no longer have to buy for the garden. So... for me it's effective but maybe not for someone who doesn't garden.

So... maybe you need to define better what you're talking about recycling, and how, and on what level this is organized (or not). Also, are you taking into account the value of landfill space, transportation of stuff, cost of recycling vs. refining raw stock which differs greatly from item to item, and so froth?

Yes, it's a complicated subject.
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Re: The Effectiveness of Recycling

Post by Mayabird » 2010-10-02 11:30pm

If you want numbers about energy usage, here are some quick numbers you can use.
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Re: The Effectiveness of Recycling

Post by someone_else » 2010-12-13 05:17pm

Assorted pointers, use at your own risk:

-random facts about aluminum

-Most electronic stuff contains rare earths (platinum group metals for example), that are becoming increasingly more costly since they are well, rare. LCD monitors are a major example.

-Plastic is a pain to separate since there are a fuckton of plastic kinds, what they do today is recycle the stuff that still show the symbol or can be recognized and then fuse the rest of the assorted unknown plastic together and make pallets, boxes, or whatever, this means some of it is not actually "recycled", but "repurposed" (and the repurposed mixed plastic will be somewhat crappy). Burning it for energy is another popular choice.

-glass requires a great deal less energy to fuse than to make from virgin silicate sand (I think less temperature in the furnace), can run as closed recycling cycle forever.

-The Plastic Soup, aka Great Pacific Garbage Patch, just because it is cool to show.

-Some other assorted facts about iron recycling here and wikipedia's wisdom "The steel industry has been actively recycling for more than 150 years, in large part because it is economically advantageous to do so" Need I say more? :mrgreen:

-paper... heh, this is a gray area. They generate toxic sludge but should require less energy than making paper from scratch. Don't go in this issue, very slippery.

But yeah, all this won't stop a lazy ass from throwing all the trash together. :lol:
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