July 20th, 2018

Rethinking how we recycle

By Letter to the Editor on March 10, 2018.

What are we recycling? The biggest part of recycling was glass and steel, iron products, and then came along aluminum. Most people have made money from recycling iron products and other metals. My brother survived in the late 1950s by scrounging cast iron from rural dumps.

Today the dumps are littered with all types of plastic products. Nobody wants them. Nobody knows what to do with them. It seems that plastic should be an excellent item like cast iron, the raw material for smelting new products.

The tarsands produce heavy bitumen, which is, when refined, broken down into tar, gasoline and a multitude of in-between products. Plastic is made from ethylene, which is made from cheap natural gas that we almost give away. If we shred the plastic and feed it into the process for refining the bitumen, wouldn’t it also break down the plastic into the molecules as well? Then it would become more fuel and other items that are useful.

If we recycle anything, shouldn’t it be broken down into basics and reused in the way it was originally? Recycling tires and making rubber mats is reusing, not recycling, because the mats are still destined for the dump, eventually. Using them for fuel or refining them to the basic components and making new tires is recycling.

So let’s recycle those plastic barrels, bundles, bags, bottles and make bigger, better bus bumpers. We have the technology, but we just don’t have the will because it is cheaper, with the price of natural gas, to make new plastics than to reinvent a process to recycle all that old plastic which China doesn’t want any more.

I hope someone in government is reading this.

Walter Kerber


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4 Responses to “Rethinking how we recycle”

  1. Resolute says:

    You may want to do some reading on this topic sir! There have been volumed of work done on the ethics, economics and practicalities of recycling. As you know there are many different plastics. Most are not compatible and cannot be combined without destroying their usefulness. Plastics are recycled by grinding in huge machines into small particles. A market exists to use these particles as filler but it is small. Most particles are remelted for a new product. Remelting changes the molecular structure of plastics so typically can only be remelted one or two times before the essential characteristics are lost. Then is only useful as filler, product or landfill, or art. All recycling consumes massive amounts of energy and resources so there comes a point where more environmental damage is done by recycling than the creation of new material. Markets, supply and demand are considered along with social engineering goals..
    At this point in time there is no foreseen end to the supply of oil and gas used to create plastic, and with the current glut of oil and gas, it is cheap. Ergo there is very little demand for plastics recycling.

  2. biff says:

    if res is fully correct, there is the issue with plastics. we keep producing them – much of it unnecessary and absolute junk; some much more useful. regardless, we are not evolving away from a dirty, unsustainable, and toxic product. it has infected our waters and marine life; it has infected each of us. it keeps piling up more and more, and it does not break down reasonably quickly – and yet, we stay stuck on our faux dependency. while we each are responsible for our choices – and our choices to buy into something, or not, is among our greatest individual and collective powers – we appear to require strong leadership that will steer us onto a wiser path. as it stands, we may whine about plastics, and other toxic substances, but what it comes down to each moment is that we are not making enough right choices.

  3. Resolute says:

    biff, plastics are so very useful are they not? Reducing and re-using are so much more important than recycle. Discipline.

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