9 thoughts on “Recycling”

  1. Not the best article in opposition. The best point on indium is that the desire for Zinc provides an adequate supply of that particular product. That’s a good point for that particular element. However, some of the recycling efforts could be better if we could get the right products to the right people. Throwing electronics in landfills is as daft as thinking you are going to recover enough indium from broken iPhone screens (usually the number one failure for replacing an iPhone).

    The author of the opinion article argues that it is not sensible to get waste from geographically distant sources. I agree if extracting one material, but there is quite a bit of other materials in an iPhone or more importantly other electronics that could be worthwhile. Don’t know for certain, but junkyards have improved to do better than just turning cars into recyclable steel. They now separate components by value and then crush the rest. The result is better reuse and a more profitable industry. So profitable that thieves are now stealing catalytic converters off cars for their rare metals.

    It would be good to do the same with electronic waste. Does it have to be done by regulation? Not really, but that is the easy route for most companies that don’t want to spend the CAPEX. Another option is to put pressure on companies like Apple and Dell that spout their “green initiatives” to actually do something about the waste they create. Quit pointing fingers at airlines and car manufacturers and follow the faith you profess.

    1. I just go by profits. If a material exist in garbage in enough concentration to make it profitable to recycle, someone will try to recycle it. A market in recycling early computers for the amount of gold they contained sprung up when gold prices increased, making it worthwhile to go scavenge those old IBM-370’s and PDP-11’s.

      If the profits aren’t there, it’s an indicator that your expending more resources (capital, labor, transportation, and energy) to obtain the material than new production requires in miners and refiners. Many of the rare earths aren’t worth recycling because they are used in trace amounts, and end up in lower concentrations in the end products than they exist in known ore deposits or slags from other processes.

      Or take a look at the history of Proctor & Gamble and some other firms that grew by looking at the massive piles of animal products piling up at the then new slaughterhouses in Chicago and Cincinnati. Cows, which were once butchered locally, one at a time, were being processed in concentrated quantities in a disassembly line, producing concentrations of specific animal byproducts as concentrated sources. So P&G and other companies figured out what they could make from truckloads of hooves.

      Recycling minor materials in consumer products is getting things backwards, like selling whole cows to consumers and then trying to go door to door to sort through the trash and collect the odd left-over cow parts and ship them to a factory. That doesn’t pay off easily, and multiplies the amount of energy and labor required to get the cow parts back in useful quantities.

      You can make a new burrito by going through a trash can at Taco Bell, digging out the remains of 20 used burritos, and trying to sort and clean the ingredients, but it’s just easier to start with fresh ingredients from farms, dairies, and cattle ranches.

      1. I agree, George. One way to reduce cost and make profit is to convince people to sort their trash for you. Convincing could be financial, but it could also be playing to their own sense of morality. I’m ok with those efforts in the private sector. I thought the author was being a bit absolute that the economics would not work. They are right about indium, but you are more accurate with your explanation of gold.

    2. Hmm, so we should tax Tesla owners because the market isn’t providing the right information on end of life costs.

  2. It’s a well-established anthropological marker that any ancient civilization was in irreparable moral decline when it had to start re-cycling their virgins rather than throwing them into the volcano.

  3. People are well meaning but ignorant. Most don’t know what is involved in recycling. Because they are well meaning, cost isn’t an issue. This is true when you frame cost as money. Other people spending money to recycle is ok. A product costing more because of recycled components is also ok.

    Frame cost as resources they want preserved and you can begin persuading them. How much water and electricity are used? What is the human cost to those tearing apart electronics? How much land is used for disposing of components? What about the wildlife habitats?

    But because this really is a religion, these drawbacks don’t really matter to many people. Killing animals, hurting humans, wasting resources, ruining habitat, and using land are all costs that are worth it to them.

    1. Lots of people are ignorant of the water needed in recycling. If you are going to do it, then it doesn’t make sense to put your recycling plant in water poor California, yet that’s the Mecca for that religion. Same with electricity.

  4. In Kansas City, trash day is when the wind blows all the loose recyclables out of the open recycle bins to mix back into the environment. Trash day really is trash day.

    I’m the only anti-recycler on the street, yet I wind up having to pick up recyclables each week that I promptly put into my non-recycled collection. I’m surprised that my neighboring environmental whackos have not burned me at the non-polluting stake.

  5. I would be willing to sort trash into burnable or landfill. But the CO2 mania put a stop to that.

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